TORONTO STAR COVER EXCLUSIVE: Wilson-Raybould breaks silence

Published in The Toronto Star (front page) & Star Vancouver (front page) | March. 31, 2019


Former federal attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould wears sea otter pelts given to her after a Big House ceremony in her honour in Campbell River, B.C., near her We Wei Kai First Nation on Saturday. PHOTO: DAVID P. BALL/STAR VANCOUVER

CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C.—A defiant Jody Wilson-Raybould has no regrets about her actions as attorney general and still wants to speak about events since her removal, she said in an exclusive interview Saturday in her B.C. First Nation.

Speaking to the Star after a Kwakwaka’wakw ceremony and feast in her honour on Saturday evening, the former cabinet minister said she is “absolutely ready” for whatever comes next in the SNC-Lavalin affair and still intends to run again as a Liberal candidate.

“I was just doing my job,” she said outside the Big House near her We Wai Kai First Nation in Campbell River, B.C., her hair still flecked with the white eagle down that had been poured over her by hereditary leaders during a smoke-filled, four-hour ceremony. “I was speaking my truth.

“We are an oral culture, so if we don’t speak truth, our culture dies.”

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet on Feb. 12 over what she called “political and partisan” pressure and “veiled threats” to halt a bribery and fraud prosecution against engineering multinational SNC-Lavalin, based in Quebec.

On Friday, the parliamentary justice committee released a recording Wilson-Raybould submitted of a conversation in which she repeatedly warns Canada’s top civil servant, then-clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, that the prime minister and his officials were engaging in political interference in the case.

She has since come under fire for taping Wernick without his knowledge.

“This is not about saving jobs,” Wilson-Raybould said in the 17-minute recording. “This is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.”

Trudeau has defended his actions in the case and said he was “unaware” of the Dec. 19 phone call.

Trudeau denied he or his staff had pressured Wilson-Raybould or behaved inappropriately on the SNC-Lavalin file. He said that during a September meeting he told Wilson-Raybould his concerns and that his only aim was to protect 9,000 jobs he feared SNC-Lavalin would shed if it left Quebec, the province he represents as a member of Parliament.

A conviction on corruption and fraud charges would bar the Quebec firm from receiving federal contracts for a decade.

The affair, which continues to rock Trudeau’s government, has led to several high-profile resignations, including those of top Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts and Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, who cited her “lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter.” Wernick said two weeks ago he was retiring.

Wernick’s lawyer Frank Addario dismissed Wilson-Raybould’s claims about Wernick, saying he was “asking for information that only she could give.”

Asked Saturday evening about Philpott’s March 4 resignation, Wilson-Raybould rejected rumblings her departure was motivated by the pair’s personal friendship or other motives.

“She didn’t do it for me,” Wilson-Raybould insisted. “She did it for her own integrity.

“She is an extraordinary person, and without equivocation the best minister that the government has had.”

During the ceremony, Wilson-Raybould’s eyes filled with tears as two chiefs gave her two sea otter pelts and a handmade drum during her feast, where more than 500 supporters had arrived — some from B.C.’s Interior, others from all parts of Vancouver Island — for a feast of wild salmon, roast beef and numerous salads and desserts local cooks had prepared over four days.

Wilson-Raybould also reiterated her previous commitment to run for the Liberals in her Vancouver-Granville riding this fall and said her source of strength through months of scandal has been the support of her extended family, other Indigenous communities and people from across Canada.

She said Saturday’s Big House ceremony and feast on her home turf emboldened her to continue amidst political turmoil. And Wilson-Raybould said she’ll draw upon the formative influence of her grandmother Effery Pearson, an outspoken Indigenous political and cultural advocate, as she faces whatever salvo comes next.

“I come back here and am grounded in the beliefs that my grandmother taught me: that you can accomplish anything if you work hard,” she said. “Being home surrounded by my family, we’ve connected with each other this way for millennia, and that’s what I carry to Ottawa and what makes me strong there.

“That’s what I hope to continue to bring to Ottawa.”

Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, on Sunday said he had provided new information to the justice committee in response to the material Wilson-Raybould submitted last week.

In a tweet, Butts said his submission consists of notes and text exchanges between himself and the former attorney general.

Wilson-Raybould has defended her decision to record her conversation with Wernick without his knowledge. The move, which she acknowledged as an “extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate step,” has drawn criticism within the legal community.

“I did this simply to ensure that my notes were accurate and given the ongoing pressure and attempts to interfere in this case,” she said in a written submission to the federal justice committee last week.

Former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant, who served under the former BC Liberal government, said the recording has embroiled his legal community in an ethics debate, but pointed to greater “integrity” questions it has raised about Trudeau’s government.

“The taped phone call has raised some legal discussion about whether that was the right thing to do,” Plant said in a phone interview Saturday, “but for me the question is why someone who is a cabinet minister feels it’s necessary to record a conversation with the clerk of the privy council in the first place.

“The attorney general said no and the prime minister kept asking … It’s a sign of something seriously fractured inside the heart of the government.”