OTTAWA – An audio recording of a conversation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould had with outgoing Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick has been made public, in addition to new and supplementary evidence related to the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
The 17-minute audio file has been provided to all members of the House Justice Committee, in addition to translated versions of the documents that Wilson-Raybould had handed over days ago.
The 43-pages of additional material also includes a written statement, as well as well as screen shots of text messages and copies of emails that she referenced during her initial testimony.
The evidence has been uploaded to the committee’s website. Chair of the committee, Anthony Housefather, has said that « no redactions have been made » to Wilson-Raybould’s submission by the committee, though there are portions of the submission that appear to have been redacted by Wilson-Raybould before it was submitted.
Wilson-Raybould, who is still a member of the Liberal caucus, provided this evidence to further bolster the testimony she gave to the committee on Feb. 27, and to respond to contradicting stories that others have offered since her appearance.
Recording of call with Wernick
The audio recording is of the Dec. 19 phone call with Wernick.
During her initial testimony on this phone call, Wilson-Raybould said she was alone and took the call from home. She said that Wernick wanted to pass on where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at regarding the file, and spoke about the company potentially moving its headquarters.
She quoted him saying “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.”
Wilson-Raybould alleged that Wernick said he was worried because it’s not good for the attorney general to be at loggerheads with the prime minister, and that she reiterated her confidence in her decision and sternly warned Wernick that they were treading on dangerous ground. This is verified in the new audio.
When asked about this call during his follow up testimony, Wernick said that it was not his recollection of that call. “I did not wear a wire, record the conversation or take extemporaneous notes,” Wernick said.
“I never raised partisan considerations at any time. I reminded her repeatedly that she was the final decision-maker. I did not attempt to influence her decision. I was giving her relevant context about public interest considerations for a decision that was hers to take. I never suggested consequences for her,” Wernick testified.
In the newly released audio recording you can hear her taking a deep breath before the conversation begins.
“Does he understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean? This is not just about saving jobs. This is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like, breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence,” Wilson-Raybould asks Wernick about Trudeau.
“Well I don’t think he sees it as that,” Wernick said.
“Well then nobody’s explaining that to him, Michael,” she replied.
The conversation ended with Wilson-Raybould saying: « 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. »
New evidence comes after extensive testimony
In her testimony more than a month ago, Wilson-Raybould detailed what she considered to be months of high-level « veiled threats » and political interference from nearly a dozen senior government officials. She alleged that this was in an effort to have her instruct federal prosecutors to drop the criminal prosecution of the Quebec construction and engineering giant and pursue a remediation agreement instead.
In her initial hours-long committee appearance she offered an in-depth account of approximately 20 exchanges –10 phone calls and 10 meetings — specifically on the SNC-Lavalin case. She also worked through a chronology of communications, ranging from in-person meetings and phone calls, to text messages and emails, from 11 senior staffers from the Prime Minister’s Office, Privy Council Office and the finance minister’s office.
In the opening remarks of the new documents, Wilson-Raybould says her view is that the real issues at the heart of the SNC-Lavalin scandal are not about “how things are ‘experienced’” or considerations like caucus dynamics, political ambitions, or poll numbers. Rather she says it is about prosecutorial independence, the rule of law, and Canada’s democratic institutions.
The opposition wanted to invite Wilson-Raybould back to testify again — something she was open to — but Liberal MPs on the House Justice Committee shut down the study, saying that they’d heard all they needed to.
Throughout her testimony, she cautioned there were limitations in her ability to speak broadly about the case because of the specifics of the waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had issued.
What she has handed over to the committee stays within the lines of what is permitted in the waiver, which includes any relevant information related to the case against SNC-Lavalin over her years-long tenure as attorney general.
Since her testimony, Trudeau has faced calls to resign, the House of Commons agenda has been largely usurped by opposition-prompted procedural moves, and several other high-profile officials have resigned amid insistence that nothing improper occurred.