Thank you, Chair.
Good afternoon, colleagues.
Chair, as I communicated to you in the letter requesting that you call this meeting, I mentioned that at the February 27 meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, provided clear and convincing testimony that there was sustained, inappropriate and unethical pressure on her. She testified that these events involved 11 people—excluding herself and her 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.
She also testified that, while she couldn't discuss why she resigned as Veterans Affairs minister or, in fact, anything else that was said or happened after she was replaced as Attorney General unless she was cleared to do so by another order in council, she had more to say. Liberal members of the justice committee denied her that opportunity at the March 19 closed-door meeting when they voted to prematurely shut down their incomplete study.
I believe—and I hope it's shared by members on both sides of the table—that it is entirely proper and appropriate for this House standing committee on ethics to examine the incomplete evidence and the many issues raised by Ms. Wilson-Raybould that are fully within the purview of this committee's mandate to investigate matters as they pertain to ethics. Now, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that the committee interfere with the narrow investigation that the Ethics Commissioner announced in his February 11 letter.
As you'll recall, Commissioner Dion disagreed with the request that he undertake an investigation of the Prime Minister under section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits a “public office holder” from giving “preferential treatment to any person or organization”. But the commissioner did find reason to act. He said, “I have reason to believe that a possible contravention of section 9 may have occurred.” Section 9, of course, prohibits a “public officer holder” from seeking “to influence a decision of another person so as to...improperly further another person's private interests.”
The commissioner concluded in that letter that he has initiated an examination under subsection 45(1) of the Conflict of Interest Act, but as I communicated to the chair in requesting this meeting, there is a wide range of issues across the ethics spectrum that are left unexamined in the prematurely closed justice committee study.
I believe that Canadians deserve to hear the full truth. It's unacceptable that our Liberal colleagues, the majority on the justice committee, clearly acting on directions from the Prime Minister's Office, decided that they didn't want to hear any more from the former attorney general or any of the nine other individuals implicated in the sustained pressure allegations made by the former attorney general. There remain many unanswered questions related to the former attorney general's resignation from cabinet, the presentation she gave to cabinet after her resignation and the discussion she had after being replaced as Attorney General.
I thank you, Chair, for your confirmation in the House last week that an investigation by this committee, the ethics committee, is or would be in order. I hope that Liberal members of the committee agree and will exercise the independence that the Prime Minister claims all committee members enjoy. I sincerely hope that we will see a manifestation of that independence in agreement today and that we study elements of the deeply troubling affair blocked by Liberal members of the justice committee.
As a first step, I wish to move the following motion:
That, given the public statement of March 14 by Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould that “this matter is serious, and some questions remain unanswered”, and given the public statement of March 21 by Ms. Jane Philpott that “there is much more to this story that needs to be told”, the committee:
A. Immediately begin a study of the ongoing corruption scandal involving the Prime Minister;
B. Instruct the Chair to write to the Prime Minister requesting that he waive all constraints that may prevent individuals invited to appear before the Committee from speaking freely;
C. Invite Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould to appear as a witness in this study no later than April 5;
D. Invite Ms. Jane Philpott to appear as a witness in this study no later than April 5; and
E. That upon conclusion of this study, a report of the findings of this committee be tabled in Parliament.
Now, the Prime Minister has deflected questions of formally allowing Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak. He cites “an unprecedented waiver” already. Of course, it was an unprecedented waiver to address an unprecedented scandal, but it doesn't extend far enough, as my motion specifies. He should make it official and he should remove all constraints, first on her and on any other witnesses who may be called to appear before committee.
Why does this matter, Mr. Chair? Because this is a new issue before this committee, I would like to put onto the record some of the relevant facts supporting the motion that's before us. It matters because Canada is a nation founded on the rule of law. Who one knows in the PMO should not get one special favours. On March 8, in a case related to this matter, the Federal Court ruled that the independence of the Attorney General is essential and fundamental to the criminal justice system. Five former attorneys general across partisan lines wrote to the RCMP commissioner to express concern that a crime has been committed. Retired judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond described the ongoing scandal as a constitutional crisis. The head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and former Ontario Liberal attorney general Michael Bryant said, “A lot of police officers have laid a lot of obstruction of justice charges on a lot of ordinary Canadians, with a lot less evidence than this.”
I will remind the committee, for those who may not have viewed Ms. Wilson-Raybould's original testimony before the justice committee, of some of the things she said. First, she said the following:
For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I [Ms. Wilson-Raybould] 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.
Here's another quote:
...the conversations that I had, where they became [very] clearly inappropriate, was when political issues came up, like the election in Quebec, like losing the election if SNC were to move their headquarters....
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said this as well:
...there were express statements regarding the necessity of interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, the potential for consequences and veiled threats if a [deferred prosecution agreement] was not made available to SNC.
Here's another quote from Ms. Wilson-Raybould:
I had determined that I was not going to issue a directive. It was inappropriate to interfere with the discretion of the director of public prosecutions, and having made up my mind, taking into account all of the information, again, for those who know me, I was not going to change my mind.
There were other quotes in her testimony. She said, for example, quoting the former principal secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, Gerald Butts, “there is no solution...that [doesn't] involve some interference”. She said, quoting Katie Telford in the Prime Minister's Office, “we don’t want to debate legalities anymore”. She testified that she spoke to Minister Morneau on this matter: “...I told him that engagements from his office to mine on SNC had to stop, that they were inappropriate. They did not stop.” She said that PMO adviser Mathieu Bouchard said, “We can have the best policy in the world but we need to [be] re-elected.”
Mr. Chairman, we have seen on numerous occasions in the past almost two months the Prime Minister change the story to change the excuses that he offers for why there was what he considers to be appropriate interference, which the former attorney general rejected as inappropriate.
The Prime Minister has claimed that thousands of jobs would be at risk if SNC-Lavalin were to be convicted. This was debunked by academics, and it was widely panned as a naive assumption, at best, or a falsehood, or a manipulation, at worst.
We heard from SNC-Lavalin's chief executive officer, Neil Bruce, about the suggestion that 9,000 jobs could disappear if SNC is blocked from a deferred prosecution agreement. He said, “That's incorrect and we've never said that”.
Now, is there more information for this committee to hear on the matter?
On March 14, Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould said, “[T]his matter is serious, and some questions remain unanswered.”
On March 21, Ms. Jane Philpott said, “There's much more to the story that should be told.... I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I'm not free to share.”
We know that the story has changed many times, as I said, over the past almost two months. The most recent, and I think disgusting, act of desperation from the Prime Minister's Office, or from someone who at one point was in the Prime Minister's Office, came out yesterday, with a leak of highly sensitive, confidential information smearing a highly respected member of the judiciary in an attempt to distract from the Prime Minister's attempt at interference in a criminal trial and a cover-up of that attempt at interference.
We heard from the chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, regretfully being forced to come forward to make a statement, having been drawn into this sorry affair, who said, “I fear that someone is using my previous candidacy to the Supreme Court...to further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process.”
Chair and colleagues, this breach of the confidentiality of what is supposed to be a highly confidential judicial appointment process is serious enough to require an investigation on its own, but it is part of this, and it is included in the widely changing, continually changing story from the Prime Minister.
This sort of leak, as we've been told again by experts in law in the past couple of days, could compromise the integrity of the judicial appointment process. It could compromise the integrity of institutions, and it could potentially compromise the integrity of sitting justices.
I respect my Liberal colleagues. We've worked well together on a number of difficult issues in the past couple of years, in creating studies within the broad purview of our ethics committee's various mandates. I know they've heard—as I've certainly heard from my constituents—about concerns, and I am sure they will continue to hear from their constituents, as I expect I will, until all the facts are out and until this matter is resolved.
Chair, just to wrap up my first intervention, I must say that I compliment the Liberal vice-chair of this committee on his op-ed commentary today in a Toronto newspaper, where he said:
Outside of these three categories of “whipped” votes, a member of parliament should be free to register their disagreement with the Liberal government on matters of policy and principle, and to remain in the Liberal caucus.
I would advise all to read the complete op-ed, but in the interests of time I will simply go to two further quotes—