Read the transcript of the Jody Wilson-Raybould interview with CBC Vancouver
The former attorney-general spoke to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition, Friday morning
In the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal that saw her resignation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet and later expulsion from the Liberal Party caucus, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition, as she prepared to fly home to Vancouver from Ottawa on Friday morning.
Did the prime minister himself ever tell you to order the prosecution to make a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin?
The prime minister never directed me to interfere in the prosecution. However, that's not necessarily the story over the course of the number of months that we talked about.
But you have said that you had a series of meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau in Vancouver that ultimately led to your resignation from cabinet. What was said in those meetings?
There was a series of meetings and the basic issue or the challenge that I had as the attorney general is that, in those series of meetings from a number of individuals, there was political pressure that was placed upon me to interfere with a prosecution, which is something that is entirely inappropriate.
And what did the prime minister tell you about that?
It's clear from my evidence in terms of the conversation I had with the prime minister on Sept. 17 that he was talking about that company [SNC-Lavalin], he was talking about jobs in Quebec and the Quebec election. I had asked the prime minister directly if he was interfering with the prosecution and he indicated that he was not.
That was a long conversation that the prime minister and the clerk [former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick] and I had on on Sept. 17 and my evidence that I gave on Feb. 27 goes into more detail.
Sources have told CBC News that you laid out a number of conditions for the prime minister and his staff to end this disagreement over the SNC-Lavalin affair sooner rather than later — conditions like having key people fired. Did you ask that [the prime minister's former principal secretary] Gerald Butts, Michael Wernick and [PMO staffer] Mathieu Bouchard be fired?
First of all, I have to say that I do not respond to leaked information from anonymous sources other than to say or to note that the continual use and inappropriate use of this tactic is something that I can't respond to.
I'm still covered by a waiver with respect to this particular issue, but what I can say is that I had hoped, all along, from the very beginning, that the prime minister would have accepted some responsibility for wrongdoing in this case and essentially apologized — apologized to Canadians.
I understand not wanting to respond to unnamed sources, but that's exactly why I'm asking the question. I'd like to hear it from you rather than from unnamed sources. Did you ask that Gerald Butts, Michael Wernick and Mathieu Bouchard be fired?
There was a number of conversations that was had but those conversations came after Jan. 14, after I was shuffled out as the attorney general, and those conversations are still covered by confidence and I respect the confidences that I had.
So is what those unnamed sources are saying — is it true?
There were a number of discussions. What I will say about those conditions that were reported, one of them was around whether or not the current attorney general would issue a deferred prosecution agreement. I have to say, unequivocally, that I would never interfere with the independence of the attorney general.
So you did not seek an assurance that your replacement, David Lametti, would not overrule the director of public prosecutions and director to give SNV-Lavalin and a deferred prosecution agreement?
I would absolutely never do that. I'm very clear on what my role was as the attorney general and the discussion that we've been having for the last number of months is around the fundamental principle of prosecutorial independence — a principle that I have upheld and will continue to uphold.
In that list of conditions, did you say anything at all about how the incoming attorney general should proceed with the case against SNC-Lavalin?
Of course I didn't. I wouldn't, as the previous attorney general, accept any direction in terms of how I conducted myself as the attorney general and I certainly would never do that to this attorney general or any other.
Did you ask for an apology from the prime minister, either in caucus or in public?
I have hopes for the prime minister — and I have had opportunity to speak with him — that he would have taken some responsibility for this situation, for the wrongdoing, and I think an apology to Canadians would have gone a long way.
What was it that made you decide to record that phone call with Michael Wernick?
I know this has been a discussion and a subject of conversation, certainly in Vancouver and across the country.
I, over the course of many months, had a sustained level of political pressure on me to interfere with a prosecution — a situation that I found to be untenable. It culminated in a couple of meetings on Dec. 18 and the one that I had the conversation with the clerk of the privy council, and I felt that something inappropriate was going to happen on that phone call.
I felt that I needed to protect myself and, in any other circumstance, as I said in my written submission, it would have been inappropriate. But I wanted to ensure that, again, that I protected myself and that I had a clear record of the conversation.
I never had any intention of releasing it. It was essentially an aide memoire for myself to ensure that the conversation was clear in my mind and that I had an accurate reflection of it.
It's been suggested that your wording in the conversation sounded scripted; that you were trying to put something down on the record which may eventually have been made public.
There was nothing scripted about the conversation. Again, I didn't have any intention of releasing it.
I eventually released it and people can judge for themselves from the contents of the tape. I would hope that people would focus on the contents as opposed to simply focusing on the tape itself. I released it because there was a number of witnesses that came before the justice committee after I had given my evidence that were saying things that simply weren't true and I felt compelled to release a tape to ensure that people could judge for themselves; that people could hear the truth.
Your dismissal [from caucus] came after you revealed that you had taped a phone call with Michael Wernick. Do you stand by that decision to record that phone call and to make it public?
I do. I honestly don't regret anything that I have done in this situation. I find it unfortunate that it has gone on for the amount of time that it has.
I wish that things had happened differently but for me, in terms of my actions, I believe that I was doing my job and ensuring that I upheld what I believe to be, what I think most Canadians believe to be, a fundamental principle of a tenet of our democracy — and that's around ensuring an independent justice system and ensuring that prosecutors are enabled to exercise their discretion free of political interference.
Prime Minister Trudeau said that he wished you had come to him sooner. He said — this is a quote — 'If anyone, particularly the attorney general, felt that we were not doing our job fully responsibly and according to all the rules as a government, it was her responsibility to come forward to me this past fall and highlight that directly to me. She did not.' Did you ever voice your concerns directly with the prime minister last year?
I did. I voiced my concern directly to the prime minister on Sept. 17. I pointed out my serious concerns about the nature of the conversations that we were having. I asked him directly if he was politically interfering with my role as the attorney general and subsequent to that conversation, as is in the public record, there were a series of meetings and telephone calls myself and my former chief of staff where I relayed the same concerns, where I asked many senior staff people in the Prime Minister's Office to stop having these inappropriate conversations with me.
That culminated on Dec. 19 when I had that call with the clerk of the privy council, who is essentially the deputy minister to the prime minister. He, in that call in on that conversation, he invoked the prime minister's name on many occasions and had indicated that he was going to go back and talk to the prime minister after we had talked.
So, yeah, the answer to your question is: Of course I did.
The SNC-Lavalin affair has dogged the Trudeau government now for two months, during which time you have stood your ground while the Liberals have been tumbling in the polls. While all of this was going on, while you were doing your best, as you say, to uphold the principle of judicial independence, were you also thinking about the damage this might be doing to the party and the prime minister?
Of course I was. Throughout this period of time, it's been incredibly difficult, of course, for me and my family and I know it's been difficult for members of caucus of the Liberal Party.
I've had the opportunity to go out in Vancouver Granville and knock on doors and have heard concerns that individuals have raised around damage to the party and around, I believe, the necessity to ensure we continue to talk about important public policy issues and to continue to have discussions around justice, around climate change, around Indigenous reconciliation.
I have to say, and this is what I said to people that I found on the doorsteps in Vancouver Granville and chat, is that I was doing my job and that I believe, fundamentally, in the very principles and foundations of our democracy and one of those is the independence of the criminal justice system; the independence of prosecutors; the rule of law; that the law applies equally to everyone.
For me, at the time when I was the attorney general and to this day, I believe that we as Canadians need to continue to hold true to what creates a strong democracy. That is these fundamental tenets. That is the voices of Canadians. That is ensuring that when we see something wrong or when we see actions that are taken that are inappropriate, that we are enabled to have a voice, that we use our voice, and that we ensure that the truth comes out and that if something inappropriate happens, that we take responsibility for it and that we ensure that we do not make that mistake or commit a wrongdoing again.
If Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives form the next government do you think you will have played a part in that?
As I said to your earlier question, I believe in doing the right thing and I believe in speaking the truth. I have to say that I was a part of the government for three-and-a-half years and the government has done many really important things and there is still legislation that's in the house right now that needs to move forward. Conversations around climate change need to continue, around affordability, around building an economy that works for everyone.
I believe in Canadians and that they can look at this issue or this chapter and make the decisions for themselves what's best for the country as we move into the into the October election.
Your father Bill Wilson and Chief Bob Chamberlin have both said that the years under the [Stephen] Harper government were, in their words, a dark time for First Nations people in this country. They've also said that Andrew Scheer, as prime minister, would spell a return to those dark times. What do you think about that?
Well I haven't heard my father's comments or Chief Chamberlin's. One of the reasons why — I'll answer the question this way — I got involved in politics is one, because the then-leader Justin Trudeau asked me to run. I had never thought about entering into federal politics.
I was, as you know, an Indigenous elected leader and I believe fundamentally that in order to transform Indigenous communities, we need to, as a government and as a country, create a space for Indigenous peoples to be self-determinant. That's why I ran. I had, as the regional chief at the time, been very frustrated with the previous governments in creating that space.
I would not ever take away from the prime minister and the government what has been contributed toward closing the gap with respect to Indigenous peoples. I do still see, as I saw when I decided to run in federal politics, the fundamental need to create the space for a transformative relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights.
That is something that I am entirely committed to, among many other important public policy issues, and I'll continue to speak my voice as long as I have the great fortune of being the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville in that capacity and then all other capacities I'll be fortunate enough to fulfil.
Do you worry, though, about the possibility of a Conservative government and what it might mean for Indigenous rights and reconciliation in this country?
I think that it is a worry.
I think that we need to have an approach to resolving and recognising Indigenous rights that can't be confined to one political party, can't be confined to the governing party the Conservative Party or the NDP and other parties. What is required to transform the relationship with Indigenous peoples, and I've said this all along, is to take a non-partisan approach to these issues to create a space for transformation.
I was a member of the Liberal Party, I still believe in the values and the principles of equality and inclusion and justice that I feel underpin the Liberal Party and so many Canadians signed up for the Liberal Party back in 2015 believing in the same thing or even in doing politics differently.
But after all of this, you still feel that way about the Liberal Party do you?
For me, entering into federal politics, the vision that the now-prime minister and I shared back then is still the same vision and the same values for me underpin that vision around ensuring that everybody has a voice and ensuring equality and inclusion in decision-making, in a different way of doing politics. I absolutely still believe in that.
I know that the hundreds of people in Vancouver Granville that have talked to you and you know thousands of people that have reached out to me still want to do and be involved in politics and ensure that they feel that they have a voice and that that voice is important to making some sound and long-lasting public policy decisions.
For the people that signed up for the Liberal Party leading up to 2015 and been involved, their voices are still important and people need to endure. For me being involved in politics, my voice still matters. Every voice still matters and I need to ensure that I continue to do what the people and my riding of Vancouver Granville elected me to do, which is to bring their issues to Ottawa because having been involved in federal politics for three-and-a-half years and it's had its challenges, but I've been really fortunate to have been involved in some major legislative changes that have been brought in within the last three-and-a-half years. And I want to continue to be involved in using my voice to contribute to the important issues of our time.
Does that mean you will run again in the fall election?
It's a question that I need to be really reflective on and I have to say that I am quite disappointed, to say the least … to have been ejected from the Liberal caucus. I need to, of course, or continue to talk to my husband and my family. I'm coming home and I'm so looking forward to getting back to Vancouver, to talking to my volunteers in the riding, to particularly constituents and hearing what they have to say.
Again, I think that I still have an important voice. I still have a commitment to ensuring that our governments, the government politics in Ottawa, is and becomes a different way of making decisions, a different way of doing politics.
[As for] what the people of Vancouver Granville feel — and I hope that they feel at liberty to tell me how they feel — I'll make a decision on what I do but I certainly think that continuing to be involved in federal politics is something that I'm incredibly open to.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview below: