Former Canadian attorney general releases tape of call with Cabinet secretary

By on 01/04/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Justin Trudeau's reputation is taking a battering in the run-up to October’s general election (Image courtesy: Steve Jurvetson).

Canada’s former attorney general and justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, has released an audio recording to support her claim that she came under pressure from prime minister Justin Trudeau and the country’s leading civil servant to halt the criminal prosecution of a large Canadian firm.

The scandal surrounding construction and engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, which has been accused of bribery, is threatening to derail the prime minister – who has seen a number of aides and ministers step down, and his ratings slide.

Michael Wernick, who is secretary to the Cabinet and clerk of the Privy Council, announced his retirement in March, saying “recent events” had led him to conclude he could not remain in his job in the run-up to October’s general election and that he would step down “well before the writ of election is issued.”

Jobs v justice

The audio recording of a secretly-taped 17-minute-long phone call between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick, conducted in December 2018, was presented to a parliamentary committee before being released publicly on Friday. Other evidence such as texts, emails and a statement by Wilson-Raybould were also published.

In the recording, Wernick is heard telling the then-attorney general that the prime minister favours a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). This would allow the engineering firm to avoid a criminal conviction, receiving a fine instead. There is a “rising anxiety as you can imagine about a signature firm and job loss,” he says.

The prime minister is “quite determined, quite firm and wants to know why the DPA route which Parliament provided for isn’t being used,” he adds.

Push back

Wilson-Raybould responds that such a route “is entirely inappropriate and political interference.” During the call, she repeatedly expresses her discomfort about what she is being asked to do.

“Does [Trudeau] not understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean?”, she asks Wernick. “This is not about saving jobs. This is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like breaching a constitutional principle.”

Wernick, who was unaware the call was being recorded, had told the House of Commons justice committee that no inappropriate pressure was placed on the former attorney general. In response to the audio evidence, he issued a statement through his lawyer on Saturday, CBC News reported. The prime minister had been unaware of Wilson-Raybould’s concerns, the statement said, and was not briefed on the phone call between Wernick and the attorney general because everyone “went on holidays the next day.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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