Justice committee releases Wilson-Raybould texts, recording on SNC
OTTAWA - Jody Wilson-Raybould secretly recorded a phone call with Michael Wernick in which she claims the country's top public servant issued veiled threats that she'd lose her job as justice minister if she didn't intervene to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
An audio recording and transcript of the Dec. 19 call was released Friday as part of additional written testimony Wilson-Raybould submitted to the House of Commons Justice committee, which last week shut down its examination of her allegation that she was relentlessly, improperly pressured to intervene in the case.
The 17-minute recording backs up Wilson-Raybould's version of the words spoken during the conversation, about which she told the committee on Feb. 26 during nearly four hours of oral testimony. But it doesn't resolve the question of whether Wernick's words constituted “veiled threats,” as she has alleged. The Privy Council clerk's tone throughout is calm and respectful, while Wilson-Raybould becomes increasingly agitated as she tries to impress on him her belief that intervening in the SNC case would be perceived as political interference in the justice system.
In her written submission, the former minister acknowledges the “extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate step” of recording the conversation. But she says she was at home alone in Vancouver at the time and was “anxious to ensure that I had an exact record of what was discussed as I had reason to believe that it was likely to be an inappropriate conversation.”
“This is something I have never done before this phone call and have not done since.”
Wernick declined to comment directly but his lawyer, Frank Addario, said recording the call was “inappropriate.”
“A lot of the tape is her making a speech for a different audience, since she could have just told him she did not want to discuss it further. I don't know any lawyer who records conversations with work colleagues or clients. I don't get the covert ops program or holding on to the tape for a convenient moment,” Addario said in an email.
“She was the chief legal officer for the country. She didn't give her tape to the RCMP. She didn't give it to the PM or the Ethics Commissioner. She didn't even give it to the committee when she first testified. Most peculiar.”
The code of conduct for the Law Society of Ontario, of which Wilson-Raybould is an honorary member, prohibits a lawyer from recording a client without the client's permission. As justice minister and attorney general at the time, Wilson-Raybould was the government's chief lawyer. A spokesman for the law society said Friday that it “does not comment on possible breaches of the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
The Canadian Bar Association code of conduct prohibits a lawyer from recording anyone without permission.
Wilson-Raybould has said she believes she was moved out of the prestigious justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a mid-January shuffle as punishment for refusing to succumb to relentless pressure last fall from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his senior staff, Wernick and others to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case. She resigned from cabinet a month later.
In the recording, Wilson-Raybould repeatedly tells Wernick that the director of public prosecutions had decided to pursue a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribery and fraud related to its work in Libya and that she would not use her power to step in to override that decision and insist upon a remediation agreement for the Montreal engineering giant. A remediation agreement is a akin to a plea bargain, in which the company would have faced stiff financial penalties while averting a possible criminal conviction that could threaten its viability.
During the call, she acknowledges she has the legal right to intervene but argues it would be unprecedented and viewed as political interference.
“This goes far beyond saving jobs. This is about the integrity of the prime minister and interference. There is no way that anybody would interpret this other than interference, if I was to step in,” she says.
“I would be a mockery. And that is not the problem. The bigger problem is what it would look like down the road for the government.”
At another point, Wilson-Raybould says she's trying to “protect the prime minister from political interference” and if he doesn't accept her advice “then it is his prerogative to do what he wants.” She tells Wernick several times she feels “uncomfortable” just having the conversation with him.
Wernick tells Wilson-Raybould that Trudeau “wants to be able to say that he has tried everything he can within the legitimate toolbox” to head off the possibility of SNC-Lavalin leaving the country and putting thousands of Canadians out of work. He says Trudeau is “quite determined, quite firm” about this and adds: “I think he's going to find a way to get it done one way or another. So he is in that kind of mood and I wanted you to be aware of that.”
“It is not a good idea for the prime minister and his attorney general to be at loggerheads,” he says. “I am worried about a collision, then, because he is pretty firm about this ... I just saw him a few hours ago, and this is really important to him.”
He tells Wilson-Raybould that Trudeau is “not asking you to do anything inappropriate or to interfere. He is asking you to use all the tools you lawfully have at your disposal.”
Towards the end of the call, Wilson-Raybould tells Wernick she's “having thoughts of the Saturday Night Massacre here” - a reference to former U.S. President Richard Nixon's attorney general resigning rather than follow the president's order to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. She also says she's waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”
“I am not under any illusion how the prime minister has and gets things that he wants.”
Wernick's lawyer said nothing the clerk said constitutes a veiled threat.
“He was asking for information that only she could give. The clerk said this (remediation agreement) is a legitimate tool and why are we not exploring it here and he asked repeatedly for an explanation to pass on to the prime minister and she refused to give it. She didn't shut the call down,” said Addario.
Addario said Wernick did not know the call had been recorded until it was released Friday, although he appeared to anticipate it during his second appearance at the justice committee on March 6. In response to questions about his recollections about the conversation, Wernick snapped: “I did not wear a wire, record the conversation or take extemporaneous notes.”
The documents released Friday also include transcripts of text messages and notes on phone calls Wilson-Raybould or her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, had with various senior government staffers.
One of them is a phone call between Prince and Justin To, Finance Minister Bill Morneau's deputy chief of staff, in which he says that there is a sense that Wilson-Raybould “has a philosophical problem” with the concept of remediation agreements, a new tool for dealing with cases of corporate corruption that went into effect last September.
“That she hated it the whole time and wouldn't even use it if we could,” To allegedly told Prince, who told him that wasn't true.