‘In that moment, I knew he wanted me to lie.’ Jody Wilson-Raybould recalls a tension-filled meeting with Justin Trudeau
Jody Wilson-Raybould most recently served as the independent Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville. The sun was flooding through the third-floor windows of the Signature private plane terminal at Vancouver International Airport as I sat waiting for the Prime Minister to arrive. The terminal is distant and isolated, far from the bustling main terminal and the eyes of the public and the media. It had been three days since Robert Fife’s front-page story in The Globe and Mail set off a series of ongoing convulsions over the Liberal government’s attempts to «pressure» me on the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
As soon as the story broke, the Prime Minister said that «the allegations in The Globe story this morning are false. Neither the current nor the previous attorney-general was ever directed by me or by anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.» The government’s response over the next 72 hours had been a case study in hubris – at once both surprised that they had been caught and offended that anyone could think they would ever do anything wrong. In the Indigenous political world I had come from, we always talked about how government practice, for generations, was to deny, delay, and distract when it came to Indigenous issues. The past three years had shown me that governments use that strategy far beyond their dealings with Indigenous peoples.
Sometimes all Canadians are treated contemptuously. On SNC-Lavalin, few were buying it. Especially when his government had been digging a deeper and deeper hole by the hour by not coming clean on how I was pushed to take over the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin to enable them to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA. Especially when his office had been telling their MPs to repeat lines they knew were not accurate.
I wished that the government would just admit their wrongdoing and deal with it openly and transparently. I knew the only way to deal with it was to tell the truth. The Prime Minister had to simply acknowledge that the attempts to apply pressure were not proper and take concrete steps to address the wrong actions. Deep down I think I knew better than to expect him to own up.
However, at that moment, I still wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I saw the Canadian Armed Forces Challenger land and pull up to the private terminal. «I so want you to keep being part of this government,» he said. As always, from the first time I met him in Whitehorse in 2013, he reflected on the good we can do for the country.
«I don’t think that you leaked the story ,» he said. As it turned out, this was the first of three private meetings with the PM over the next 36 hours, before I eventually resigned from his Cabinet. That resignation – and everything that led to it – would lead to him tossing me out of the Liberal caucus and then removing me as the confirmed Liberal candidate for Vancouver Granville in the 2019 general election. The Prime Minister and I had not communicated since the Globe story broke – not even by phone – but the world had exploded around me.
The public and media barrage was unlike anything I had ever experienced or could ever have anticipated. And it was a similar firestorm for the Prime Minister and his office. I know the Prime Minister had always considered me a bit of a challenge – not political enough, too independent-minded, and ultimately not part of the inner Liberal crowd. I was an Indigenous girl from a small fishing village – Cape Mudge, on the southern tip of Quadra Island just off Vancouver Island.
My political point of reference was the Big House, not the House of Commons. I got involved with the Liberal Party largely because I believed we shared those views, and because I thought he would be a good prime minister and create a good team. «Since you brought it up, I did not leak the story, and it is absurd and offensive you would suggest that.» I wondered if he knew that I had warned Gerry Butts, his principal secretary, that I had been cornered by Robert Fife after Cabinet on February 5 as I came out of the elevator on the ground floor of West Block. Taking myself down, which in any scenario was the most likely outcome of the story leaking, did not advance those causes.
There is no question in my mind that the Prime Minister knew there were attempts to pressure me to avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and while those attempts failed, thankfully, they were wrong and he knew it. I told him that he should be telling Canadians the truth. «I never directed,» he said, referring to interfering in my role as the attorney-general in relation to the SNC-Lavalin prosecution. His public lines started coming, which were designed to deny responsibility and culpability.
There are differences between pressure and direction, he emphasized. I would strongly advise against it.» He repeated in that airport room that I was not shuffled from being minister of justice and attorney-general because of SNC-Lavalin. » To which I thought to myself, Oh yes, I remember Scott Brison resigned from Treasury, so, of course, you then had to move the attorney-general and two other ministers and elevate two MPs to fill one spot. » » As he went on, I suddenly blurted out, «I don’t want you to say anything further about what happened after September 17.» To this day, I am still surprised I said that. »
I know why I did it and why I wanted him to stop talking – I was trying to leave space open for a constructive solution to the mess the PM and his office had created and that, in my overly optimistic opinion, could still be found. » Either the Prime Minister knew everything that had happened and did not care and was clearly lying to me and the country, or he did not know what had been happening during the months after September 17 to try to exert pressure on me and was not in control of his office. As the sun rose across Vancouver on February 11, I was still optimistic that the PM might take my best advice and come clean. The Prime Minister again greeted me casually and kindly at the door of his top-floor suite.
Honestly, I cannot tell you how many people have told me they are experts on this doctrine since this SNC-Lavalin story broke. » What has always been crystal clear to me – at that moment and throughout – is exactly what my role was as the attorney-general. I recounted, again, the incidents where pressure was attempted, and he again had excuses or answers for everything. He repeated that he would not clean house or fire anyone, and then he offered up, If we did, we would not be government in October. I replied, I would be surprised if we were in government if you did not clean at least some of the house in some way and call some type of investigation. I added, After all, if you are confident you did nothing wrong, then why would you not want to do this? This was about the maintenance of the rule of law and the fundamental tenets of our democracy.
He made it clear that everyone in his office was telling the truth and that I, and by extension Jessica Prince, my chief of staff, and others, were not. He used the line that would later become public, that I had «experienced things differently. In that moment, I knew he wanted me to lie – to attest that what had occurred had not occurred. This is not my fault. I was laser angry in that moment.
At some point, he asked me what he should say to the media. » He had a media availability ostensibly on housing later that morning .
Source: Jody Wilson- Raybould | The Globe and Mail