Making a reference to the Watergate scandal, former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she had thoughts of the “Saturday Night Massacre” when she received what she characterized as “veiled threats” from her government on losing her job unless she cooperated on the SNC-Lavalin issue.
She was referring to events on Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973, when U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered his attorney general to fire the special prosecutor assigned to the Watergate scandal. The attorney general refused and resigned, and so did his deputy after Nixon asked him to do the same.
Wilson-Raybould made her much anticipated testimony on Feb. 27 before the House of Commons justice committee after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau partially waived solicitor-client privilege, allowing her to speak openly on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
During her address, Wilson-Raybould said she believes she was shuffled out of her portfolio to Veterans Affairs in January because she resisted pressure from Trudeau and his senior staff to halt a criminal prosecution of the Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
“For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I 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,” said Wilson-Raybould, who resigned in February after reports of alleged pressure from the prime minister’s office became public.
Wilson-Raybould said that during a Sept. 17 meeting with Trudeau and Michael Wernick, the government’s top public servant, she was warned that if SNC-Lavalin is not given a remediation agreement—a type of plea bargain that would allow the company to avoid a criminal conviction—it would mean the loss of many jobs and SNC-Lavalin moving out of Montreal.
She added that Wernick said there is “an election in Quebec soon,” a point Trudeau repeated and said, “I am an MP in Quebec—the member for Papineau.”
Wilson-Raybould said she reacted by looking him in the eye and asking, “Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the attorney general? I would strongly advise against it.” To which she said Trudeau responded, “No, no, no—we just need to find a solution.”
The former justice minister said she and her staff continued to be pressured by 10 other people in the Prime Minister’s Office and the finance minister’s office with around 10 phone calls, 10 meetings, and numerous emails and text messages.
In response to her testimony, Trudeau said he completely disagrees with how Wilson-Raybould characterized the events, and maintained that he and his staff “always acted appropriately and professionally.”
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer said that in light of Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Trudeau should resign as prime minister and the RCMP should open an investigation into the issue.
“I was sickened and appalled by [Wilson-Raybould’s] story of inappropriate and frankly, borderline illegal pressure brought to bear on her by the highest levels of Justin Trudeau’s government,” Scheer said.
With reporting by Limin Zhou in Ottawa. With files from The Canadian Press.