Last Wednesday, we saw an astonishing moment in political theatre. We witnessed a lawyer who sat before lawmakers and delivered an opening statement about corruption, political interference, bullying and veiled threats which some would construe as an obstruction of justice.
We realised from the lawyer’s initial remarks that this was no usual public hearing. The comments were explosive, extraordinary and gripped the entire session which ran for roughly 4 hours. It was a remarkable performance by a lawyer who was meticulous, measured, detailed and precise in how the case was laid out to the lawmakers and the wider public.
Yep, this was certainly not Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former equalizer/lawyer; but the law officer in question was one Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Wilson-Raybould was for 3 years, Canada’s Attorney General and Justice Minister. In January 2019 she was transferred to the Veteran Affairs portfolio by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Wilson-Raybould eventually resigned from the Canadian cabinet a month later.
Rumours were circling for weeks on whether Wilson-Raybould was initially fired/demoted from her legal portfolios by Trudeau for insubordination. At the start of Wednesday’s public hearing – in front of Canada’s parliamentary justice committee – it did not take long for Wilson-Raybould to confirm the whispers.
Wilson-Raybould explained how Trudeau and others in his inner circle tried to influence her to interfere in a criminal case to help out a major conglomerate – SNC-Lavalin -who are major employers/integral players within Trudeau’s own constituency of Papineau, Montreal, Quebec. Even though a criminal case against the SNC-Lavalin was currently in the courts
Wilson-Raybould opening remarks went as follows:
“For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin. These events involved 11 people (excluding myself and my political staff) – from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance. This included in-person conversations, telephone calls, emails, and text messages. There were approximately 10 phone calls and 10 meetings specifically about SNC-Lavalin that I and/or my staff was a part of.” See full statement
The revelations by Wilson-Raybould was shocking. She laid out notes, named names, timelines and quotes in great detail; of the alleged corruption and political interference at the heart of her own government by colleagues who should have known better. Her comments completely blew away the public’s image of Trudeau’s inner circle who were willing to bend legal rules for political capital.
Wilson-Raybould went on….
“Still on September 19, I spoke to (Finance) Minister Morneau on this matter when we were in the House. He again stressed the need to save jobs, and I told him that engagements from his office to mine on SNC had to stop – that they were inappropriate.
In my role as AG, I had received the decision of the DPP in September, had reviewed the matter, made a decision on what was appropriate given a DPA (deferred prosecution agreement), and communicated that to the Prime Minister. I had also taken additional steps that the Prime Minister asked me to – such as meeting with Clerk (to privy council).
In my view, the communications and efforts to change my mind on this matter should have stopped. Various officials also urged me to take partisan political considerations into account – which it was clearly improper for me to do. … We either have a system that is based on the rule of law, the independence of the prosecutorial functions, and respect for those charged to…
I wanted to speak about a number of things – including bringing up SNC and the barrage of people hounding me and my staff. Towards the end of the meeting I raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate. Gerry (top advisor to Trudeau) then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff – he said I needed to find a solution. I said no and referenced the PI and JR. I said further that I gave the Clerk the only appropriate solution that could have happened and that was the letter idea but that was not taken up.
Gerry talked to me about how the statute was set up by Harper that that he does not like the law…(Director of Public Prosecutions Act) – I said something like that is the law we have … On December 7 – I received a letter from the PM, dated December 6, attaching a letter from the CEO of SNC-Lavalin dated October 15. I responded to the PM’s letter of December 6, noting that the matter is before the courts, so I cannot comment on it, and that the decision re: a DPA was one for the DPP, which is independent of my office……
On January 7, I received a call from the PM and was informed I was being shuffled out of my role as MOJAG. I will not go into details of this call, or subsequent communications about the shuffle, but I will say that I stated I believed the reason was because of the SNC matter. They denied this to be the case.
..On January 11, 2019 – the Friday before the shuffle. My former Deputy Minister is called by the Clerk and told that the shuffle is happening, and that she will be getting a new Minister. As part of this conversation, the Clerk tells the Deputy that one of the first conversations that the new Minister will be expected to have with the PM will be on SNC Lavalin. In other words, that the new Minister will need to be prepared to speak to the PM on this file.’
In all the years of following politics I have never seen a senior legal politician lay such a blunt case of corruption about their own current head of government and colleagues. Normally such revelations are published in memoirs years after the event; especially when the political party officials in question are no longer in government.
Wilson-Raybould’s Liberal party colleagues on the justice committee came at her hard. But the former Attorney General was having none of it and pushed back strongly and in particular her party colleague Iqra Khalid was sent back pedaling.
In essence Wilson-Raybould – as Canada’s top prosecutor – was fired by the Canadian PM for doing her job – which was to follow the law. She was sacked for remaining independent as any half-decent Attorney General should expect to behave in such a pivotal role. If her allegations are true then it is a disgrace to see someone so noble being undermined and disrespected in this way. Good for her in standing up to the bullies.
On too many occasions we have seen Attorney Generals across the globe act in a partisan manner, play fast and loose with the rule of law for political capital. But in Jody Wilson-Raybould we witnessed an clear example of how a government law officer minister stood her ground. Brilliant.
Can the Justin Trudeau survived this charge of political interference in the court of public opinion?
Not long after Wednesday’s hearing ended Trudeau gave a brief press conference where he disagreed with Wilson-Raybould’s statement. Only to say minutes later that he did not watched the whole proceedings. Trudeau felt he has done nothing wrong and he was right to do everything possible to save and create jobs.
One of the exchanges at the hearing that stood out for me was this one between Wilson-Raybould and a Liberal Party colleague…
(Randy) Boissonneault: So that oath that you took Jan. 13 reaffirmed your confidence in the government. Do you have confidence in the prime minister today?
Wilson-Raybould: I’ll say this. And I’m not going to get into any conversations about why I resigned, other than to say this: I resigned from cabinet because I did not have confidence to sit around the table, the cabinet table. That’s why I resigned.
When this scandal first came to light, Trudeau denied any the rumours but he has been forced to change his tune at every turn.
Jody Wilson-Raybould’s performance was something else and it gave a clear example for those around world who wish for their politically appointed prosecutors to act independently and fairly without any political bias. It was a bad moment for Canada’s politics. But yet Wilson-Raybould gave hope and credibility thanks to her performance at Wednesday’s hearing.
Her disclosures was significant for many reasons
- Developing countries are constantly lectured by developed nations such as the US, Canada and UK on corruption when they are the biggest culprits going.
- We learn that corruption is at the heart of Canadian politics and not for the first time during Trudeau’s current stint at PM.
Sadly Wilson-Raybould’s political career is probably over. I cannot see her Liberal party colleagues forgiving her. Hardly any of them have come out publicly to support her stance. Whether she can remain in the Liberal party will also be an issue.
Over the years we have seen countless Attorney Generals in democratic nations making partisan decision just to please their bosses/paymasters and not following the law.
- During the previous decade – in the the lead up to the Iraq War – we saw the UK Attorney General – Peter Goldsmith – fail to share the initial advice he gave to Tony Blair on whether going to war in Iraq was legal. The advice was finally disclosed 7 years later in 2010 via the Chilcott Inquiry
- Only in 2018 we saw how the British Parliament found the UK government in contempt for failing to release the full advice give by its Attorney General about the terms of exiting the EU.
- I would be here all week if I had to share the politically bias actions of numerous prosecutors at the State and Federal level in the United States.
So in the last few days we have seen 2 perfect examples of how the independence of an Attorney General should be in any fledgling democracy.
- Jody Wilson-Raybould pushback against her colleagues in not interfering in a criminal for political reasons.
- Planned charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust filed against Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by his own Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, in relation to Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla! Affair
Wilson-Raybould ended her statement by saying…
I will conclude by saying this: I was taught to always be careful what you say because you cannot take it back.
I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity. These are the teachings of my parents, my grandparents and my community (Kwakwaka’wakw)
I come from a long line of matriarchs and I’m a truth teller, in accordance with the laws and traditions of our big house.
This is who I am and this is who I always will be.
Gilakas’la (Kwak’wala term meaning “thank you”)
(Update: 4th March – Jane Philpott resigns from the cabinet with a stinging rebuke to the leadership)