Jody Wilson-Raybould’s opening statement at justice committee: Full transcript

The former justice minister delivered an extended opening statement to the House of Commons justice committee. Read it here.

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The nameplate of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould is shown at the House of Commons Justice Committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould broke her silence on the SNC-Lavalin affair in testimony to the House of Commons justice committee. She delivered an extended, 36-minute opening statement. These are those remarks in full.

Gilakas’la. Thank you Mr. Chair and members of the Justice committee for providing me the opportunity to give extended testimony to you today. I would like to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin people.

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 and I and/or my staff were a part of these meetings. Within these conversations there were express statements regarding the necessity of interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential of consequences and veiled threats if a DPA was not made available to SNC. These conversations culminated on December the 19th of 2018 with a conversation I had with the Clerk of the Privy Council, a conversation that I will provide some significant detail on.

A few weeks later on January the 7th 2019 I was informed by the Prime Minister that I was being shuffled out of the role of Minister of Justice and attorney general of Canada. For most of these conversations, I made contemporaneous notes, detailed notes, in addition to my clear memory, which I am relying on today among other documentation.

My goal in my testimony is to outline the details of these communications for the committee, and indeed all Canadians. However before doing that, let me make a couple of comments. First, I want to thank Canadians for their patience since the February 7th story which broke in the Globe and Mail. Thank you as well specifically to those who have reached out to me across the country. I appreciate the messages and I have read all of them.

Secondly, on the role of the attorney general. The attorney general exercises prosecutorial discretion as provided for under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. Generally this authority is exercised by the Director of Public Prosecutions but the attorney general has authority to issue directives to the DPP on specific prosecutions or to take over prosecutions.

It is well established that the attorney general exercises prosecutorial discretion. She or he does so individually and independently. These are not cabinet decisions. I will say that it is appropriate for cabinet colleagues to draw to the attorney general’s attention what they see as important policy considerations that are relevant to decisions about how a prosecution will proceed. What is not appropriate is pressing the attorney general on matters that she or he cannot take into account, such as partisan political considerations, continuing to urge the attorney general to take her or his mind, for months, after the decision has been made, or suggesting that a collision with the Prime Minister on these matters should be avoided.

With that said, the remainder of my testimony will be a detailed and factual delineation of approximately 10 phone calls, 10 in-person meetings and emails and text messages that were part of an effort to politically interfere regarding the SNC matter for purposes of securing a deferred prosecution.

The story begins on September the 4th… [2018]. My chief of staff and I were overseas when I was sent a memorandum for the attorney general pursuant to Section 13 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act which was entitled “Whether to issue an invitation to negotiate a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin” which was prepared by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel. The only parts of this note that I will disclose are as follows: “The DPP is of the view that an invitation to negotiate will not be made in this case and that no announcement will be made by the PPSC.” As with all section 13 notices, the director provides the information so that the attorney general can take such course of action as they deem appropriate. In other words, the director had made her decision to not negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. I subsequently spoke to my minister’s office staff about the decision and I did the standard practice of undertaking further internal work and due diligence in relation to this note, a practice that I have had for many of the section 13 notices that I received when I was the attorney general. In other words, I immediately put in motion, with my department and minister’s office, a careful consideration and study of the matter.

Two days later, on September the 6th, one of the first communications about the DPA was received from outside of my department.

Ben Chin, Minister Morneau’s chief of staff, emailed my chief of staff and they arranged to talk. He wanted to talk about SNC and what we could do, if anything, to address this. He said to her, my chief, that if they don’t get a DPA they will leave Montreal and it’s the Quebec election right now so can’t have that happen. He said that they have a big meeting coming up on Tuesday and that this bad news may go public.

This same day my chief of staff exchanged some emails with my minister’s office staff about this, who advised her that the Deputy attorney general, Nathalie Drouin, was working on something and that my staff were drafting a memo about the role of the attorney general vis-à-vis the PPSC.

It was on or about this day that I requested a one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister on another matter of urgency, and as soon as possible after I got back into the country.

This request would ultimately become the meeting on September the 17th between myself and the Prime Minister that has widely been reported in the media.

On September 7th my chief of staff spoke by phone to my then-deputy minister about the call that she had received from Ben Chin and the deputy stated that the department is working on this. The deputy gave my chief a quick rundown of what she thought some options would be.

On the same day I received a note from my staff on the role of the attorney general, a note that my office also shared with Elder Marques and Amy Archer at the PMO.

Same day, staff in my office met with the deputy minister. Some excerpts of the section 13 note were read to the deputy minister but the deputy minister did not want to be provided with a copy of the section 13 note.

September 8th. My deputy shared the draft note on the role of the attorney general with my chief of staff, who subsequently shared it with me. And over the next day, clarity was sought by my staff, with the deputy, on aspects of the options that were laid out in her note.

A follow-up conversation between Ben Chin and a member of my staff, Francois Giroux, occurred on September the 11th.

Mr. Chin said SNC had been informed by the PPSC that it cannot enter into a DPA and Ben again detailed the reasons why they were told that they were not getting a DPA. Mr. Chin also noted that SNC’s legal council, Frank Iacobucci, and further detailed what the terms were that SNC was prepared to agree to, stating that they viewed this as part of a negotiation.

To be clear, up to this point, I had not been directly contacted by the Prime Minister, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office or the Privy Council Office about this matter. With the exception of Mr. Chin’s discussions, the focus of communications had been internal to the Department of Justice.

This changes on September the 16th.

My chief of staff had a phone call with Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques from the Prime Minister’s Office. They wanted to discuss SNC. They told her that SNC had made further submissions to the Crown, and that there is some softening, but not much.

They said that they understood that the individual crown prosecutor wants to negotiate an agreement but that the director does not. They said that they understand that the individual Crown prosecutor wants to negotiate an agreement, but the Director does not. They said that they understand that there are limits on what can be done, and that they can’t direct, but that

that they hear that our deputy of justice thinks that we can get the PPSC to say we think that we should get some outside advice on this. They said that they think we should be able to find a more reasonable resolution here. They told her that SNC’s next board meeting is on Thursday, which was September the 20th. They also mentioned the Quebec election context. They asked my chief if someone has suggested the outside idea to the PPSC, and asked whether or not we were open to this suggestion. They wanted to know if my deputy could do it.

In response my chief of staff stressed to them prosecutorial independence and potential concerns about the interference in the independence of the prosecutorial functions.

Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Marques kept telling her that they didn’t want to cross any lines, but they asked my chief of staff to follow up with me directly on this matter.

To be clear I was fully aware of the conversations between September the 4th and 16th that I have outlined. I had been regularly briefed by my staff from the moment this first arose and had also reviewed all materials that had been produced. Further, my view had also formed at this point.

Through the work of my department, my minister’s office and work I conducted on my own that it was inappropriate for me to intervene in the decision of the director of public prosecutions in this case and to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement. In the course of reaching this view, I discussed the matter on a number of occasions with my then-deputy, so that she was aware of my view, raised concerns on a number of occasions with my deputy minister about the appropriateness of communications we were receiving from outside the department and also raised concerns about some of the options that she had been suggesting.

On September 17th, the deputy minister said that Finance had told her that they wanted to make sure that Kathleen understands the impact if we do nothing in this case.

Given the potential concerns raised by this conversation, I discussed this later with my deputy.

This same day, September 17th, I have my one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister that I requested a couple of weeks ago. When I walked in the Clerk of the Privy Council was in attendance as well.

While the meeting was not about the issue of SNC and DPAs, the Prime Minister raised the issue immediately.

The Prime Minister asked me to help out – to find a solution here for SNC – citing that if there is no DPA there would be many jobs lost and that SNC would move from Montreal.

In response, I explained to him the law and what I have the ability to do and not do under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act around issuing Directives or assuming conduct of prosecutions. I told him that I had done my due diligence and had made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the Director.

In response the Prime Minister reiterated his concerns. I then explained how this came about and that I had received a section 13 note from the DPP earlier in September and that I had considered the matter very closely. I further stated that I was very clear on my role as the attorney general – and that I am not prepared to issue a directive in this case – that it would not be appropriate.

The Prime Minister again cited the potential loss of jobs and SNC moving. Then to my surprise, the Clerk started to make the case for the need for a DPA. He said “there is a board meeting on Thursday (September 20) with stock holders” … “they will likely be moving to London if this happens”… “and there is an election in Quebec soon.”

At that point the Prime Minister jumped in stressing that there is an election in Quebec and that “I am an MP in Quebec – the member for Papineau.”

I was quite taken aback. My response – and I vividly remember this as well – was to ask the Prime Minister a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked: “Are you politically interfering with my role / my decision as the attorney general? I would strongly advise against it.”

The Prime Minister said “No, No, No – we just need to find a solution.” The Clerk then said that he spoke to my Deputy and she said that I could speak to the Director.

I responded by saying no I would not – that would be inappropriate. I further explained to the Clerk and the Prime Minister that I had had a conversation with my deputy about options and what my position was on the matter.

As a result I agreed to and undertook to the Prime Minister that I would have a conversation with my Deputy and the Clerk – but that these conversations would not change my mind. I also said that my staff and my officials are not authorized to speak to the PPSC.

And then we finally discussed the issue that I had asked for the meeting in the first place.

I left the meeting and immediately debriefed with my staff about what was said with respect to SNC and DPAs.

On September 19th, I met with the clerk as I had undertaken to the Prime Minister. The meeting was one-on-one, in my office.

The clerk brought up job losses and that this is not about the Quebec election or the Prime Minister being a Montreal MP. He said that he has not seen the section 13 note. The clerk said that he understands that SNC is going back and forth with the DPP, and that they want more information. He said that “Iacobucci is not a shrinking violet.” He referenced the September 20th date and that they don’t have anything from the DPP. He said that the Prime Minister is very concerned about the confines of my role as attorney general and the Director of Public Prosecutions. He reported that the Prime Minister is very aware of my role as the attorney general of Canada.

I told the clerk again that I instructed my deputy is not to get in touch with the director and that given my review of the matter I would not speak to her directly regarding a DPA. I offered to the clerk that if SNC were to send me a letter, expressing their concerns – their public interest argument – it would be permissible and I would appropriately forward it directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Later that day my chief of staff had a phone call with Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard from the Prime Minister’s Office. They wanted an update on what was going on regarding the DPAs since “we don’t have a ton of time.” She relayed my summary of the meeting with the clerk and the Prime Minister.

Mathieu and Elder also raised the idea of an “informal reach out ” to the DPP. My chief of staff said that she knew I was not comfortable with that, as it looked like and probably did constitute political interference. They asked whether that was true if it wasn’t the attorney general herself, but if it was her staff or the deputy minister. My chief of staff said yes it would and offered a call with me directly. They said that they will regroup and get back to you on that.

Still on September the 19th, I spoke to 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.
They did not stop. On September the 20th my chief of staff had phone calls with Mr. Chin and Justin To both members of the minster of finance’s office about DPAs and SNC. At this point after September 20th, there was an apparent pause in communicating with myself or my chief of staff on the SNC matter. We didn’t hear from anyone again until October the 18th when Mathieu Bouchard called my chief of staff and asked that we, I, look at the option of seeking an external legal opinion on the DPP’s decision not to extend an invitation to negotiate a DPA.
This would become a recurring theme for some time in messages from the PMO, that an external review should be done about the DPP’s decision. The next day as well, SNC filed a federal court application seeking to quash the DPP’s decision to not enter into remediation with them. In my view, this necessarily put to rest any notion that I might speak to or intervene with the DPP or that external review could take place. The matter was now before the courts and a judge was asked to look at the DPP’s discretion.
However, on October the 26th 2018, when my chief of staff spoke to Mathieu Bouchard and communicated to him now given that SNC has filed in federal court seeking to review the DPP’s decision surely, we have moved past the idea of the attorney general intervening or getting an opinion on the same question. Mathieu replied that he was still interested in an external legal opinion idea. “Could she not still get an external legal opinion on whether or not the DPP has exercised their discretion properly?” and then on the application itself, the attorney general could intervene, seek to stay the proceedings, saying she was waiting an external legal opinion. My chief of staff said this would obviously be perceived as interference and her boss questioning the DPP’s decision. Mathieu said that if six months from the election, SNC announces they’re moving their headquarters out of Canada, that is bad, he said ‘We can have the best policy in the world but we need to get re-elected.’ He said that everybody knows this is the attorney general’s decision but that he wants to make sure that all options are being canvassed. Mathieu said that if at the end of the day if the attorney general is not comfortable, that is fine. He just doesn’t want any doors to be closed. Jessica, my chief of staff, said that I am always happy to speak to him should he wish.
In mid-November the PMO requested that I meet with Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques to discuss the matter, which I did on November 22nd. This meeting was quite long, I would say about an hour and a half. I was irritated by having to have the meeting as I had already told the prime minister, etc, that a DPA on SNC was not going to happen, that I was not going to issue a directive. Mathieu in this meeting did most of the talking. He was trying to tell me that there were options and that I needed to find a solution. I took them through the DPA act, Section 15, Section 10 and talked about the prosecutorial independence as a constitutional principle and that they were interfering. I talked about the Section 13 note, which they said they had never received, but I reminded them that we sent it to them in September. Mathieu and Elder continued to plead their case, talking about if I’m not sure in my decision that we could hire an eminent person to advise me. They were kicking the tires. I said no. My mind had been made up and they needed to stop. This was enough.
I will briefly pause at this moment to comment on my own state of mind. In my role as attorney general, I had received the decision of the DPP in September. Had reviewed the matter, made a decision on what was appropriate given a DPA and communicated that to the prime minister. I had also taken additional steps that the prime minister asked me to, such as meeting with the clerk.
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 so. We either have a system that is based on the rule of law, the independence of prosecutorial functions and respect for those charged to use their discretion and powers in a particular way or we do not.
While in our system of government, policy oriented discussions amongst people at early points in conversation may be appropriate, the consistent and enduring efforts even in the face of judicial proceedings on the same matter, and in the face of a clear decision of the director of public prosecutions and the attorney general to continue an even intensify such efforts, raises red flags in my view.
Yet, this is what continued to happen.
On December the 5th, 2018, I met with Gerry Butts. We had both sought out this meeting. 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 our meeting, which was in the Chateau Laurier, I raised how I needed everybody to stop talking to me about SNC, as I had made up my mind, and the engagements were inappropriate. Gerry then took over the conversation and said we need a solution on the SNC stuff. He said I needed to find a solution. I said no, and I referenced the preliminary inquiry and the judicial review. I said further that I gave the clerk the only appropriate solution that could have happened, and that was the letter idea that was not taken up. Gerry talked to me about how this statute was a statute passed by Harper, and that he does not like the law. I said something like, “That is the law that we have.”

On Dec. 7, I received a letter from the Prime Minister dated Dec. 6, attaching a letter from the CEO of SNC dated Oct. 15. I responded to the Prime Minister’s letter on Dec. 6, noting that the matter is before the court and I cannot comment on it, and that the decision re: the DPA was one for the DPP, which is independent of my office.

This brings me to the final events in the chronology, the ones that signal, in my experience, the final escalation in efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to interfere in this matter. On Dec. 18, 2018, my chief of staff was urgently summoned to a meeting with Gerry Butts and Katie Telford to discuss SNC. They wanted to know where I—me—am at in terms of finding a solution. They told that they felt the issue was getting worse, and that I was not doing anything. They referenced a possible call with the Prime Minister and the clerk the next day. I will now read to you a transcript of the most relevant sections of a text conversation between my chief of staff and I almost immediately after that meeting.

Jessica: “Basically, they want a solution. Nothing new. They want external counsel retained to give you an opinion on whether you can review the DPP’s decision here, and whether you should in this case. I told them that would be interference. Gerry said, ‘Jess, there is no solution here that does not involve some interference.’ At least they were finally being honest about what they were asking you to do. Don’t care about the PPSC’s independence. Katie was like, ‘We don’t want to debate legalities anymore.’ They keep being like, ‘We aren’t lawyers, but there has to be solutions here.”

MOJAG: “So where were things left?”

Jessica: “So unclear. I said I would of course let you know about the conversation, and they said they were going to kick the tires with a few people on this tonight. The clerk was waiting outside when I left, but they said that they want to set up a call between you and the Prime Minister and the clerk tomorrow. I said that of course you’d be happy to speak to your boss. They seemed quite keen on the idea of you retaining an ex-Supreme Court of Canada judge to get advice on this. Katie Telford thinks it gives us cover in the business community and the legal community. That it would allow the Prime Minister to say that we were doing something. She was like, “If Jody is nervous, we would of course line up all kinds of people to write op-eds saying that what she is doing is proper.”

On Dec. 19, 2018, I was asked to have a call with the clerk. It was a fairly lengthy call, and I took the call from home. And I was on my own, by myself. GIven what occurred the previous day with my chief of staff, I was determined to end all interference and conversations about this matter once and for all. Here’s part of what the clerk and I discussed. The clerk said he was calling about DPAs, SNC. He said he wanted to pass on where the Prime Minister is at. He spoke about the company’s board, and the possibility of them selling out to someone else, moving their headquarters and job losses. He said that the Prime Minister wants to be able to say that he has tried everything he can within the legitimate toolbox.

The clerk said that the Prime Minister is quite determined, quite firm, but he wants to know why the DPA route, which Parliament provided for, isn’t being used. He said, “I think he is 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 it.” The clerk said he didn’t know if the Prime Minister was planning on calling me directly, or if he is thinking about getting somebody else to give him some advice. “You know he does not want to do anything outside of the box of what is legal or proper.” He said the Prime Minister wants to understand more, to give him advice on this or give you advice on this if you want to feel more comfortable you are not doing anything inappropriate or outside the frame. I told the clerk that I was 100 per cent confident that I was doing nothing inappropriate. I again reiterated my confidence in where I am in my views on SNC and the DPA have not changed. I reiterated this is a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence. I warned the clerk in this meeting, on this call, that we were treading on dangerous ground here. I also issued a stern warning because as the attorney general, I cannot act in a manner, and the prosecution cannot act in a manner, that is not objective, that isn’t independent. I cannot act in a partisan way and I cannot be politically motivated. This all screams of that. The clerk wondered if anyone could speak to the director about the context around this, or get her to explain her reasonings.

The clerk told me that he was going to have to report back to the Prime Minister before he leaves. He said again that the Prime Minister was in a pretty firm frame of mind about this, and that he was a bit worried. I asked what he was worried about. The clerk then made the comment about how it is not good for the Prime Minister and his attorney general to be at loggerheads. I told the clerk that I was giving him my best advice, and if he did not accept that advice, then it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to do what he wants. But I am trying to protect the Prime Minister from political interference or perceived political interference or otherwise. The clerk acknowledged that, but said that the Prime Minister does not have the power to do what he wants. All the tools are in my hands, he said. I said I was having thoughts of the Saturday night massacre, but that I was confident that I had given the Prime Minister my best advice to protect him and to protect the constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence. The clerk said that he was worried about a collision because the Prime Minister is pretty firm about this. He told me that he had seen the Prime Minister a few hours ago, and that this is really important to him. That is essentially where the conversation ended, and I did not hear from the Prime Minister the next day.

On Jan. 7, I received a call from the Prime Minister, and was informed I was being shuffled out of my role as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. I will not go into details of this call, or subsequent communications about the shuffle, but I will say that I stated I believe the reason was because of the SNC matter. They denied this to be the case. On Jan. 11, 2019, the Friday before the shuffle, my former deputy minister is called by the clerk and told the shuffle is happening, and 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 Prime Minister will be on SNC-Lavalin. In other words, that the new minister will need to be prepared to speak to the Prime Minister on this file. The deputy recounts this to my chief of staff who tells me about the conversation.

My narrative stops here.

I must reiterate to the committee my concern outlined in the letter to the chair yesterday. That is order-in-council number 2019-0105 addresses only my time as attorney general of Canada and therefor does nothing to release me from my restrictions that apply to communications why I proudly served as the minister of veterans affairs, and in relation to my resignation from that post or my presentation to cabinet after I resigned. This time period includes communications on topics that some members of the committee have explored with other witnesses and about which there have been public statements by others. The order in council leaves in place the various constraints, ,in particular cabinet confidence that there are on my ability to speak freely on matters that occurred after I left my post as attorney general.

Even with those constraints I hope that through my narrative today the committee and everyone across the country who’s listening has a clear idea of what I experienced and what I know of who did what and what was communicated. I hope and expect the facts speak for themselves. I imagine Canadians now fully understand that in my view these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter and that this pressure or political interference to intervene was not appropriate. However, Canadians can judge this for themselves as we now have the same frame of information.

Lastly, as I’ve said previously, it has always been my view that the attorney general of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions and in this respect always willing to speak truth to power.

In saying this I was reflecting what I understood to be the vital importance of the rule of law and   prosecutorial independence in our democracy. My understanding of this has been shaped by some lived experiences. I am of course a lawyer. I was a prosecutor in the downtown east side of Vancouver. So, I come to this view as a trained professional and committed to certain values as key to our system of order. But my understanding of the rule of law has also been shaped by my experiences as an Indigenous person and as an Indigenous leader.

The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected. Indeed one of the main reasons for the urgent need for justice and reconciliation today is that in the history of our country we have not always upheld foundational values such as the rule of law in relations to Indigenous Peoples. And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality and a just society this can have firsthand. 

So when I pledged to serve Canadians as your minister of justice and attorney general I came to it with a deeply ingrained commitment to the rule of law and the importance of acting independently of partisan political and narrow interests on all matters. When we do not do that I firmly believe and know we do worse as a society.

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. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am 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. Thank you.