OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has issued an official cabinet order to allow Jody Wilson-Raybould to publicly testify about the SNC-Lavalin affair.The cabinet order, called an order-in-council, was published Monday evening, and comes on the same day Wilson-Raybould released a letter saying she needs more clarity on the constraints on her speech before she’ll schedule an appearance at the House of Commons justice committee.The committee has invited Wilson-Raybould to testify about her version of events about the allegation, published in the Globe and Mail, that she was politically pressured to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.The order allows Wilson-Raybould and “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her relating to the exercise of her authority under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act respecting the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin” to disclose to the justice committee information about discussions on that subject that are covered by cabinet confidences or solicitor-client privilege. It also allows those people to disclose the information to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who is also conducting an investigation into the matter.Cabinet confidence privilege protects information that is the subject of discussion at cabinet meetings or between cabinet ministers. Solicitor-client privilege protects information that is given by the government’s legal advisor.“However, in order to uphold the integrity of any criminal or civil proceedings, this authorization and waiver does not extend to any information or communications between the former Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions concerning SNC-Lavalin,” the order says.Trudeau had given a vague promise earlier on Monday that he would allow Wilson-Raybould to publicly testify about “relevant matters.”Wilson-Raybould’s letter to the justice committee — revealed Monday afternoon — said these issues need more attention before she’ll agree to testify.“I am anxious to appear at the first available time,” she said in the letter dated Feb. 25. “However, I believe that in advance of my appearance, the Members of the Committee and I should have as much clarity as we can in relation to the possible constraints on the matters about which I may properly testify.”She said she has taken legal advice, but still needs the government to waive privilege. She also said the committee should get its own legal advice on what can be discussed without violating the Parliamentary convention that it not interfere with ongoing court matters.“I would prefer not to schedule my appearance before the Committee until we all have whatever clarity we can have about these issues,” she said.I am anxious to appear at the first available time
Wilson-Raybould said that when she does appear, she would like 30 minutes for an opening statement to give her recollection of events, and then would stay and answer questions for as long as the committee wants.SNC-Lavalin is facing criminal charges for allegedly bribing public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011. It has also filed a case in Federal Court that challenges the decision made by federal prosecutors last September to not negotiate a remediation agreement. Remediation agreements see a company admit wrongdoing, pay a fine, and obey other compliance conditions, but avoid a guilty conviction in court.The political controversy centres on whether Wilson-Raybould, when she was justice minister and attorney general, was pressured by Trudeau or his senior staff to order federal prosecutors to stay the corruption case against SNC-Lavalin and instead pursue a remediation agreement. It is a Canadian constitutional principle that attorneys general must not be pressured politically when acting in their role of overseeing the federal prosecution service.The Commons justice committee started its study of the matter last week, and heard a fiery defence of the government’s side from Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council.Despite Wilson-Raybould’s concerns about solicitor-client privilege, Wernick told the committee he doesn’t see any privilege around the conversations. “I do not see where the former attorney general was a solicitor,” he said. “The matter was never discussed at cabinet, ever. So she was not giving advice to cabinet. She was not advising the prime minister.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during question period in the House of Commons on Feb. 25, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Wernick predicted that Wilson-Raybould will raise concerns about three meetings, including a phone call he had with her on Dec. 19, 2018 — just weeks before she was shuffled out of the justice minister role.He told the committee he was confident that all the conversations were “lawful.” Yet he also said that in his conversation with her, he told Wilson-Raybould that “a lot of her colleagues and the prime minister were quite anxious about what they were hearing and reading in the business press about the future of the company.”The Conservatives sought to turn up the pressure on Trudeau by calling on him to testify at the justice committee. On Monday they introduced a motion that, citing Trudeau’s “alleged direct involvement” in pressuring Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin case, called on him to “to appear, testify and answer questions at the (justice committee), under oath, for a televised, two-hour meeting, before Friday, March 15, 2019.”The Liberals used their majority to defeat the motion on Monday evening by a vote of 155 to 106.Earlier Monday the justice committee heard testimony from lawyers and law professors with expertise on remediation agreements and the role of attorneys-general in government.UBC law professor Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge, said that once prosecutors have reached the “decision point” to proceed with a trial, she is skeptical government officials having any legal basis for raising it with the attorney general.“There is limited lawful authority for anyone to intervene at that decision point, and going forward,” she told the committee.Turpel-Lafond said it’s fine for government officials to offer their assistance if the attorney general wants more information, but that’s where the limit lies.“I think when we get beyond that position of the more passive and respectful approach, and we get into a very rigorous position of saying, ‘I challenge you to take a different position,’ I think we are into very serious issues with the rule of law,” she said.• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: btaplatt