Jody Wilson-Raybould is warning that she won’t be able to speak freely about everything concerning the SNC-Lavalin affair when she finally gives her side of the story Wednesday, breaking almost three weeks of silence that has fuelled the anonymously-sourced controversy and shaken the Trudeau government to its core.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an order-in-council Monday that waived the solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality provisions that Wilson-Raybould has repeatedly cited to refuse comment on the controversy.
But in a letter Tuesday to the House of Commons justice committee, Wilson-Raybould said the waiver covers only her time as justice minister and attorney general. It does not release her to talk about any communications she had after she was moved to the veterans affairs post in early January, her subsequent resignation from cabinet or the presentation she was allowed to give to cabinet last week after resigning a week earlier, she wrote.
“I mention this simply to alert the committee to the fact that the order-in-council leaves in place whatever restraints there are on my ability to speak freely about matters that occurred after I left the post of attorney general,” she wrote.
Nevertheless, Wilson-Raybould accepted the committee’s invitation to testify Wednesday afternoon about allegations the Prime Minister’s Office improperly pressured her last fall to drop a criminal prosecution against Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Since the allegation involves inappropriate pressure on her as attorney general, it was not clear why she would need to discuss anything that was said or done after she left the job. In response to Wilson-Raybould’s letter, committee members wrote back saying they believe the waiver is sufficient for the former minister to testify fully.
However, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it’s clear from Wilson-Raybould’s letter that “she has more to say and the prime minister isn’t letting her say it.”
“Justin Trudeau is trying to trick Canadians into believing that he is letting Ms. Wilson-Raybould speak freely. In reality, however, he is still hiding information he doesn’t want Canadians to know,” Scheer said in a statement.
Trudeau, who has denied any wrongdoing, said Tuesday that he’s looking forward to the former minister’s testimony.
“It is important that people get an opportunity to testify or share their point of view with the committee,” he said.
“As we said, waiving privilege, waiving cabinet confidentiality is something that we had to take very seriously, but I’m pleased that Ms. Wilson-Raybould is going to be able to share her perspective.”
It has been nearly three weeks since the allegation first surfaced that Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould last fall to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, rather than pursue a criminal prosecution for corruption and bribery related to government contracts in Libya. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the prestigious justice portfolio to veterans affairs in early January, which some allege was punishment for her refusal to drop the criminal proceedings.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet several days after the Globe and Mail first reported the allegation. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigned a week later, but insisted neither he nor anyone else in the PMO had unduly pressured Wilson-Raybould.
Joan Bryden and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press