Jody Wilson-Raybould says she took the “extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate step” of secretly recording a phone call with the country’s top public servant just before Christmas because she feared the conversation would cross ethical lines and she wanted an exact account of what transpired.
An audio recording and transcript of the call with Michael Wernick, then-clerk of the Privy Council, were released publicly Friday in a package of material Wilson-Raybould submitted to the House of Commons justice committee, which is studying whether there was any political interference in a prosecution of Montreal engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet Feb. 12 amid allegations that she felt she was placed under sustained pressure from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Wernick and other senior advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office after she decided last September not to intervene in the case.
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 Wilson-Raybould says she did not feel there was any need for her to use her power to step in and override that decision.
The 17-minute long audio recording documents a call Wilson-Raybould placed to Wernick on Dec. 19, after he asked to speak with her.
The former minister has said she believes she was moved out of the prestigious justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a mid-January cabinet shuffle because she refused to intervene in the case; she resigned from cabinet a month later. Wernick has denied threatening or improperly pressuring Wilson-Raybould.
In the written submission, which followed Liberal efforts to prevent her from testifying before the committee a second time, Wilson-Raybould says she normally would have had a staff member take notes during an important call. She was alone at home in Vancouver, she explains, and “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 that I have never done before this phone call and have not done since,” she says in her written statement.
The phone call came after what Wilson-Raybould said was a sustained and repeated effort to get her to agree to negotiate an agreement with SNC, given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s concern about the firm’s 9,000 Canadian jobs and the risk it might pull up stakes and move if it couldn’t avoid prosecution.
The agreement would have resulted in fines and outside monitoring of the company’s actions, but would allow the company to avert a criminal conviction and a ban on bidding on federal contracts for up to 10 years.
The recorded phone call confirms Wilson-Raybould’s account of the call that she delivered to the committee in person during four hours of testimony on Feb. 27, and confirms that she felt the attempts to get her to change her mind were “entirely inappropriate.”
During the call she told Wernick that if she stepped in to override the independent public prosecutor’s decision, there would be no other way to view it than as political interference, a perception from which she was trying to protect Trudeau.
“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.”
She told him several times she felt uncomfortable with the call, calling the government’s plan “political interference” and “dangerous ground,” adding she’s “100 per cent confident I’m doing nothing inappropriate.”
Wernick can be heard saying he’s worried about a “collision” between Trudeau and his attorney general.
“It is not a good idea for the prime minister and his attorney general to be at loggerheads,” he said. “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 her Trudeau doesn’t want her to do something she is uncomfortable with or that is inappropriate, he just wants to make sure she is using all the tools she has available to her, including stepping to have a remediation agreement negotiated with SNC-Lavalin.
She tells him she knows about the tools available, but that in this case it is not appropriate.
There appears to be some confusion as to whether Trudeau and his staff knew why the public prosecutor wasn’t going to negotiate an agreement with the company. Wernick said Trudeau would like to understand the reasoning; Wilson-Raybould says the written decision, known as a Section 13 report, had been sent to Trudeau’s office.
Wernick said he didn’t know that, and then later asks her to have her chief of staff send it again.
By the time he appeared for a second time at committee on March 6, Wernick appears to have learned that his Dec. 19 conversation had been recorded.
In response to questions about his recollections about the conversation, he snapped: “I did not wear a wire, record the conversation or take extemporaneous notes.”
Near the end of the call, Wilson-Raybould is heard to tell Wernick 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 … I am just stuck doing the best job that I can.”
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 didn’t want to use a remediation agreement, and “has a philosophical problem with it.
“That she hated it the whole time and wouldn’t even use it if we could.”
Prince told To that wasn’t true.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press