That, given the Prime Minister's comments of Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the appropriate place for Canadians to get answers on the SNC-Lavalin affair, and given his alleged direct involvement in a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin's criminal prosecution, the House order the Prime Minister to appear, testify and answer questions at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, under oath, for a televised two-hour meeting, before Friday, March 15, 2019.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
The SNC-Lavalin case has caught the attention of Canadians across the country for one very simple reason: it goes to the very heart of what makes Canada a fair and democratic country. As I have already said in the House, we are a nation that is founded on the rule of law. No one should be given special treatment, regardless of their status, wealth or political connections.
Quite simply, what we have seen unfold over the last two weeks is a textbook case of corporate and government corruption, a story in which a corporate giant with deep pockets and deeper government connections tried to leverage its backroom influence to avoid a criminal conviction and in which those in the 's Office it leaned on were all too willing to help.
We now know exactly what happened. Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick's testimony last week at the justice committee shone a whole new light on the entire affair. We know that SNC-Lavalin successfully lobbied to have a special provision written into the Criminal Code that would allow it to escape a criminal conviction on bribery charges.
We know that the director of public prosecutions independently decided not to make use of that provision. We know that the former attorney general told her superiors in the Privy Council Office and the PMO that she would not use her authority to overrule that decision.
Thanks to Mr. Wernick's testimony, we now know what happened after that: an unsolicited, coordinated and sustained effort by the himself to get the former to change her mind, to overrule the independent Crown prosecutor and to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook anyway.
It was unsolicited. The did not seek input from the on her decision. Her decision was already made.
It was coordinated. The dispatched his closest political adviser and his top civil servant to lean on her, impressing on her the “consequences” if she did not give in to their demands.
It was sustained, with multiple attempts to secure a different decision from the in the weeks and months since her decision had been made.
It all adds up to the improperly, if not illegally, interfering in a criminal prosecution.
Up until now, the has not given Canadians a clear account of his actions. Since the story first broke in The Globe and Mail almost three weeks ago, he has changed his version of events multiple times. He smeared the former 's reputation. He blamed everyone, from his own staff to Scott Brison. He even tried to blame Stephen Harper.
Even after Mr. Wernick's testimony, which pulled the curtain back on just how deeply involved the was, he has remained as evasive and elusive as ever. However, he can no longer avoid the fact that he himself was at the centre of an unprecedented attempt to obstruct the course of justice.
That brings us to my motion today. The time has come for the to be transparent. He must account for his actions. He must answer for what he has done, and he must do so before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The SNC-Lavalin case was referred to the justice committee. In the beginning, the Liberals on the committee voted against our motion. Two weeks ago, the opposition members proposed an comprehensive list of nine key witnesses to question, including a number of senior staffers from the 's Office and the former attorney general's office. Under strict orders from the government, the Liberals on the committee refused to allow any of those witnesses to appear. The cover-up had begun.
However, as public pressure continues to mount, the Liberals are slowly beginning to back down. The former has been called to appear, which apparently will take place tomorrow morning, and as I said earlier, Mr. Wernick's testimony last week brought clarity to just how high up this matter goes.
Since its abrupt change of heart on the justice committee's work, the government cannot stop singing its praises. Perhaps sensing that a criminal investigation is coming, the government has a new-found confidence in the justice committee's ability to provide Canadians with answers on this affair.
Last Friday, the said the following in the House: “We have confidence in the members' work on the justice committee. I think they must do their work.”
Those were the words.
Last Wednesday, the himself said in this Chamber, “...I have tremendous confidence in the members of the justice committee, who will be moving forward on the investigation on all sides.” We will take him at his word, but I have tabled this motion today because the , and only the Prime Minister, can provide answers to these questions. He has been implicated in this affair, and it is time for him to answer for it.
The promised that he would be different when he was asking Canadians for their votes. He said so right on the pages of the Liberals' campaign platform in 2015. Although Liberal members may not want to hear it now, I will remind them that their own campaign document said, “As the saying goes, sunlight is the world's best disinfectant. Liberals will shed new light on the government and ensure that it is focused on the people it is meant to serve: Canadians.”
After the election he also said, “Openness and transparency will be our constant companions, and we will work to restore Canadians’ trust in their government and in our democracy.”
Canadians may have taken him at his word, but he has taken Canadians for fools with his actions in the last few weeks.
I do not need to tell anyone on this side of the aisle just how badly this affair has harmed their reputation in the eyes of Canadians. Canadians feel betrayed. They are wondering how a who came to power only three years ago, promising to be different, has so quickly gone back to the old Liberal ways and so quickly demonstrated the kind of secrecy and hypocrisy that Liberals have become famous for.
However, this motion gives the the opportunity to regain some of the confidence he has lost.
I am asking him to support this motion and to ask his entire Liberal caucus to do so as well.
Canadians deserve answers, and he is the only one who can give them those answers.
I invite all members of the Liberal Party to do the right thing. We know that you are under tremendous pressure from political operatives within your own party who are trying to protect themselves—trying to protect themselves possibly from even facing criminal charges themselves—but you have an opportunity and a responsibility to do the right thing, to stand up for our independent system of justice to prove that no one in Canada gets a special deal just because he or she is rich and powerful. There is one set of rules for every Canadian.
Members of the Liberal Party have the opportunity to do that today, and I invite them to do the right thing.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying very clearly that it is in the public interest that the be a witness at the justice committee and come clean. It is in the public interest that he say yes to this, and it is in the public interest that our colleagues across the floor vote in favour of this motion that we have put forward today.
Why is it in the public interest?
I am very proud to sit on the justice committee, and so far we have heard from some witnesses. We have heard from the , and in that meeting we heard that the minister could not answer any questions because he was bound by solicitor-client privilege. He claimed to be bound by cabinet confidence.
He also espoused numerous opinions here in the House as to whether or not something happened regarding undue pressure, or pressure at all, on the minister. However, what I found most interesting is what the witness, the current , did not tell us in committee but rather affirmed later: It was that when the former attorney general went to cabinet to discuss her side of the story, he recused himself from that cabinet meeting because he did not want to hear what she had to say.
If the current Attorney General did not want to hear what the former attorney general wanted to say, there is significant public interest in knowing exactly what kind of pressure was building on the previous attorney general. Otherwise, why would the current Attorney General be afraid or concerned about being in a conflict position or maybe being in a position where he had a positive obligation to do something on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General?
The second witness of note was the Clerk of the Privy Council. The Clerk of the Privy Council allowed us to gather more facts, and more facts than we thought we were actually going to get in one sense. He certainly did not believe that there was solicitor-client privilege at play. He also went beyond talking about what was alleged to have been said and confirmed for us many things that happened in cabinet, which was very helpful.
The Clerk also told us of a series of meetings that had happened, which was very interesting, because it gave us certain dots to diarize in terms of putting together the story. However, I do not think he gave us all the information. The only person who has all the information is the witness who did not make it onto the list of the justice committee, and that is the .
What have we heard from the so far? We have heard only from the Prime Minister in successive press availabilities, wherein his story, as the leader of the opposition pointed out, has changed multiple times. What was interesting about his press conferences as they went on was that we got a little more information. Sometimes solicitor-client privilege applied and sometimes it did not. At the end, he gave minimalistic answers whenever the press wanted to go deeper, understand the issue and get more facts and more context in order to maybe come to a conclusion as to whether or not there was influence, and then he would hide behind and cower under both solicitor-client privilege and sometimes under cabinet confidence.
I will be up front and honest in saying that I do not know whether he actually believed that those two principles were at play when he said those things, because we have seen numerous legal opinions in the press since then. It has been a great time for lawyers in this country, and for social media. There have been numerous legal opinions written with respect to whether solicitor-client privilege applies or even if cabinet confidence applies, which is an important consideration as well.
Today we are also going to hear from a number of witnesses in committee. In the first tranche of meetings, we are going to have a literature review of what the Shawcross principle is. The usefulness of the deferred prosecution agreement will be discussed as well in the second hour, which is very interesting for lawyers who may want to have debates on those matters. However, the reality is that it does not really illuminate the situation in which we find ourselves, which means utilizing the facts to determine whether or not the Shawcross principle was adhered to.
I will make a very bold prediction that in today's questioning of these witnesses, one of them will say that they simply do not have enough facts in order to render a clear decision on whether or not the Shawcross principle had been violated, because we do not have all the facts.
Let us look at the meetings.
On September 4, there was a letter to SNC-Lavalin from the director of public prosecutions saying no. On September 17, the Clerk of the Privy Council tells us that he, the and the former attorney general had a meeting, that they did discuss the SNC-Lavalin matter and, supposedly, the former attorney general indicated that she would not be changing her mind and that she would not be succumbing to the pressure.
How do we know that? The Clerk of the Privy Council told us a story in the justice committee. The has given us bits and bobs of information in press conferences. We have not heard yet from the former attorney general. However, the Prime Minister's testimony is crucial and key in this. There were three people in that meeting. We need to hear from every one of those people in order to ensure we know what happened.
We fast forward to the December 5 meeting that happened between Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary to the , and the former attorney general. Having been honoured to be a former cabinet minister in this place, any meeting like that would have a readout sent back to the Prime Minister. We need to know what was in the readout to the Prime Minister, and only the Prime Minister can tell us that.
On December 6, the sent a letter to SNC-Lavalin and the former attorney general indicating this was all the problem of the attorney general and SNC should speak to her. We need to know what thought process and conversations happened up to the moment when he signed that letter, under his own signature.
There was also a meeting on December 17, again, between the 's Office and the staff of the former attorney general. Both would send readouts back to their minister and Prime Minister. We need to know what happened there.
Finally, on December 18, the Clerk of the Privy Council had a telephone call with the former attorney general. There is no question that he gave a readout to the after that, because it seems to have formed the basis of a shuffle that happened no more than 20 days later.
There is another reason this is in the public interest.
Shareholders of SNC-Lavalin have recently contacted a law firm in Windsor, Ontario. They are concerned about the fact that SNC-Lavalin was given notification by the director of public prosecutions on September 4 that she would not be granting a deferred prosecution agreement. However, it was not until October 10 that SNC-Lavalin disclosed this matter. In that intervening time, between September 4 and October 10, shareholders of SNC-Lavalin were not made aware of the fact that the journey to get a deferred prosecution agreement had ended. Why that matters to us is the following.
Who in the Prime Minister's Office, what cabinet minister, or even did the give assurances to SNC-Lavalin that it would not have to disclose a material fact to its shareholders because they were going to sort it all out? An investigation will be going on there. This is not a political matter. While I respect the ethics office and the justice committee, we are far beyond that. We are now in the world of concerns about whether there is true representation and timely disclosure given by the company on a matter that could possibly take away 15% of its revenues. That is a material fact for shareholders to know.
From September 4 in writing until October 10 in writing, no material disclosure happened by SNC-Lavalin on this point. We will not rest until the appears before the justice committee and tells us the truth. Canadians deserve it, shareholders deserve it and we deserve it as an institution.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to some of the matters raised in the motion of the member opposite. I want to commence my statements by two comments, which are simply to underscore the important contributions that have been made to government and the Government of Canada by two very distinct Canadians.
First, the member for has served as a minister and attorney general as well as the minister of Veterans Affairs, and has made terrific and incredible contributions. I would reiterate my personal alarm about the comments that were made about the member for Vancouver Granville and the attacks that were made about her and her character.
Second, are the contributions made by the former principal secretary to the , his belief in public service and dedicating his work to the cause of all Canadians.
We know two processes are already under way to investigate the alleged allegations referenced in the motion. First, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights began hearing witnesses on this issue on Thursday, February 21, in response to a motion that was initiated. Second, the Ethics Commissioner is conducting an investigation, as we speak. That was also initiated by members of the opposition.
There is every reason to believe that these two mechanisms, one composed of Canada's elected representatives and one representing a non-partisan perspective, are up to the task of considering the very questions that are being asked by Canadians and by the members on the other side of the aisle.
With that in mind, it would be beneficial to begin by discussing the rules, responsibilities and powers of the justice committee in its review of this matter in addition to what the committee has already heard and what witnesses it will hear from.
As with other large deliberative assemblies, the House of Commons has taken advantage of the greater flexibility available in committees to carry out functions that can be better performed in smaller groups, including the examination of witnesses and detailed consideration of legislation, estimates and technical matters. Committee work provides detailed information to parliamentarians on issues of concern to the electorate and, as we well know, often provokes important public debate.
In addition, because committees interact directly with the public, they provide an immediate and visible conduit between elected representatives and Canadians. Committees are extensions of the House, created by either standing or special orders, and are limited in their powers by the authority delegated to them. For House of Commons committees, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs establishes a list of members of the various standing committees at the start of each session and during the course of a session, if necessary. This list takes effect once it is approved by the House. As stipulated in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, most standing committees have 10 members. Party representation on committees reflects the party standings in the House.
Committees can gather the information necessary for their studies in a number of ways, including by hearing testimony during meetings, accepting briefs and written opinions, requesting the production of documents, organizing round tables and visiting locations. Most often, committees gather information on a particular subject by hearing from witnesses and consulting briefs. With the exception of standing joint committees and certain standing committees, the Standing Orders set out a general mandate for all standing committees. They are empowered to study and report to the House on all matters relating to the mandate, organization, management and operation of the departments assigned to them by the House.
More specifically, they can review and report on the statute law relating to the departments assigned to them; the program and policy objectives of those departments and the effectiveness of their implementation thereof; the immediate, medium and long-term expenditure plans of those departments and the effectiveness of the implementation thereof; and an analysis of the relative success of those departments in meeting their objectives.
In addition to this general mandate, other matters are routinely referred by the House to its standing committees, such as bills, estimates, order in council appointments, documents tabled in the House pursuant to statute, and specific matters which the House wishes to have studied.
In each case, the House chooses the most appropriate committee on the basis of its mandate.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has the power to review and report on the policies, programs, and expenditure plans of the Department of Justice.
As hon. members know, the department has the mandate to support the dual roles of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, the chief law officer of the Crown. The committee also has the power to study the policies, programs and legislation of the following entities: the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Courts Administration Service, the Administrative Tribunals Support Service of Canada and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
In particular, the committee may review proposed amendments to federal legislation relating to certain aspects of the criminal law, family law, human rights law, and the administration of justice, notably with respect to the following statutes: the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Divorce Act, the Civil Marriage Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Judges Act, the Courts Administration Service Act and the Supreme Court Act.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights may also undertake studies on subjects related to its mandate, either as referred to it by the House of Commons or on its own initiative. For example, they recently conducted a study on juror mental health, and prior to that, they conducted a study on human trafficking in Canada.
In the course of a study, the committee holds public meetings, considers evidence from witnesses, and reviews written submissions and other authoritative documents. In the case of their human trafficking study, they also travelled across Canada to hold private sessions with witnesses who were uncomfortable testifying in a public forum. This enabled them to hear from witnesses that they otherwise might not have been able to hear from but whose testimony was crucial to their study.
At the conclusion of a study, the committee usually reports its findings and makes recommendations. The committee may request a government response within 120 days.
As we know, the committee met on Thursday, February 21, and heard from the hon. , the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada, Madame Nathalie Drouin, as well as the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Michael Wernick. All of these witnesses provided helpful information at committee to assist it, and Canadians generally, to understand the scenario addressed in the member's motion we are debating today, in addition to the roles and responsibilities of the Attorney General of Canada.
For example, when asked if it would be appropriate for the and officials to discuss the matter in question with the Attorney General of Canada, the , in his testimony, confirmed, “Those kinds of conversations would be appropriate”. Mr. Wernick, as Clerk of the Privy Council, reiterated this view in his own testimony later the same day.
When asked about conversations with cabinet colleagues in his role as and whether they were appropriate, the Attorney General of Canada answered, “Absolutely”.
As the has indicated, he is seeking the counsel of the regarding the issue of solicitor-client privilege. The Attorney General has assured Canadians that he is seized with the urgency of this matter and is seeking the best approach to provide transparency to Canadians and fairness to the former attorney general in a way that does not compromise solicitor-client or litigation privilege.
To that end, solicitor-client privilege is an exceedingly important part of Canada's legal system and should only be waived in the appropriate circumstances.
It is a protection that allows lawyers across this country, many of whom find seats in this very chamber, to engage on the toughest issues known in law and provide their clients with candid and comprehensive advice. This includes the current who is the government's lawyer. The Attorney General must be allowed to provide that advice to the and would be unable to do so in a candid and comprehensive manner if solicitor-client privilege were waived.
As the former attorney general, the member for , has stated, the issue of solicitor-client privilege is complex and layered. That is why the current is studying carefully the very best approach to provide transparency to Canadians and fairness to the former attorney general in a way that does not compromise solicitor-client privilege or litigation privilege, which is important to underscore as there are currently not one but two pending litigation matters involving SNC-Lavalin before Canadian courts.
Madame Nathalie Drouin, the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada, helpfully explained in her testimony before the committee last week that “The Attorney General is supported by the DPP, the director of public prosecutions. Please note that the DPP is also a deputy attorney general of Canada. The DPP is responsible for initiating and conducting federal criminal prosecutions on behalf of the Crown.”
During his important testimony before the committee last week, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Michael Wernick, whom I previously referenced, indicated that on February 12 the director of public prosecutions issued the following statement, which can be found on the director's website: “I am confident that our prosecutors, in this and every other case, exercise their discretion independently and free from any political or partisan consideration.”
The testimony of Mr. Michael Wernick was especially helpful in light of his decades of service as a senior public servant under both Conservative and Liberal governments. As the has stated, this, “leaves him well positioned to understand what our institutions are grounded in and make sure we are doing the right things as a government” and “He is someone we need to heed very carefully when he chooses to express himself publicly”.
Mr. Wernick went on at that committee. I will reiterate it for the purposes of the record of today's debate. He stated, “If you boil it down for Canadians as to what is going on here with the facts that we have and all of the facts that I know from my participation in meetings and conversations, we are discussing lawful advocacy”.
Again, I am quoting Mr. Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada, the most senior civil servant in this country. He went on to say that his view “very firmly” was that the conversations with the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada “were entirely appropriate, lawful, legal.”
We know that after the justice committee's in-camera meeting of February 19 of this year, the committee members announced that they will be calling the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, the member for , as well as several academics to appear before the committee and give testimony. Those hearings are expected to take place this very week. The committee may well then decide to hear from more witnesses, as is its jurisdiction and its purview.
Under the Liberal government, committees are masters of their own agenda. Committees of this House do exemplary work. Everyone in this chamber recognizes that because everyone in this chamber, save for cabinet members, participates in that committee work. We are confident that the committee meetings will continue to be thoroughly and fairly conducted and will provide Canadians with the answers and information that they seek.
In the remaining portion of my time, I want to address the Ethics Commissioner's investigation. I turn briefly now to the study that will be conducted by the Ethics Commissioner.
Under the Conflict of Interest Act, a member of the Senate or House of Commons who has reasonable grounds to believe that a public officer holder, which includes the , has contravened the act may in writing request that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner examine the matter.
In conducting this kind of investigation, the commissioner has many powers. First is the power to summon witnesses and require them, first, “to give evidence—orally or in writing—on oath” or “on affirmation”, and second, “to produce any documents and things that the Commissioner considers necessary.”
For the purposes of enforcing these powers, the commissioner has the same powers as a court of record in civil cases. The subject of the complaint also has the opportunity to make submissions to the commissioner.
The commissioner is required to provide the Prime Minister with a report setting out the facts in question, as well as the commissioner's analysis and conclusions in relation to the request made by a parliamentarian. The report is to be provided to the person who made the request, the public office holder who is the subject of the request, and the public.
The commissioner may not include in the report any information that he or she is required to keep confidential, unless the information is essential for the purposes of establishing the grounds for any conclusion in a report.
As I have explained, these two processes are already under way. Both are investigating the allegations raised by the motion that is before us today. I am entirely confident that these two processes will be thoroughly and fairly conducted and will provide Canadians with the answers and information they seek. There is every reason to believe that these two groups are up to the task of considering the questions that are being asked.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the motion before us to compel the of Canada to appear before the justice committee to answer questions in this affair, which has grown and changed over the last couple of weeks in quite dramatic ways.
I would like to begin by indicating what I would like to say in my remarks by way of outline. I would like to provide a bit of history about how we arrived here and the changing narrative of the government side. I would then like to talk about the role of the independent Attorney General and how precious that is in our democracy. I would like to try to then refute the argument that somehow everything is fine because the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is going to have carriage of this. Lastly, I would like to talk about the issue of deferred prosecution agreements or remediation agreements, which have been put into the Criminal Code quite recently, only coming into force in September of last year and which are at the centre of this issue.
With that in mind, I would like to talk about the sequence of events that has led us here.
A Globe and Mail story reported that there apparently had been pressure put on the former attorney general in respect of a criminal prosecution. The immediate response, and there were many, was that he did not direct her to do a particular thing.
That wording is important, because I think it is common ground between the government and the opposition that directing an independent attorney general to do something with a criminal matter is wrong. It is in fact unconstitutional, violating one of the key constitutional conventions of our democracy, and that is that we have the right to an independent, not political, decision-maker when a person is going to be subject to criminal charges.
The started by saying that he did not direct her to do certain things. However, that was never the story in the first place. The story was that she was pressured to do certain things, and I will come back to that.
Then, of course, the clerk appeared last week to say that there was vigorous debate, but there was simply lawful advocacy, no inappropriate pressure. I will develop why this matters in a moment.
There is a convention, a decision, called the Shawcross principle, which was generated in 1951 by a labour attorney general in the United Kingdom. It talks about the line that cannot be crossed. That is now a part of Canadian law and is referred to as the Shawcross principle. That line is that it is absolutely appropriate, and in fact sometimes very desirable, to have an attorney general discuss matters with his or her cabinet colleagues, but the final decision has to be his or her decision alone. The question before us is whether or not there was pressure that crossed that line, which, of course, comes to what happened.
On September 4, an independent person called the director of public prosecutions communicated to a company called SNC-Lavalin that there would not be a deferred prosecution agreement, that she was going to proceed in her decision with a prosecution of this matter in criminal court. Thereafter, it appears that the former attorney general, who has the ability under the statute to reverse that, to give a direction to that person, decided not to budge. I do not think the law even applies here, as I will describe in a moment. However, even if the law did apply in these circumstances, it is not my judgment that there ought to be a deferred prosecution agreement in these circumstances. It is her decision and her decision alone.
Then what happened was that on September 17, this issue came up in cabinet with the . We have heard testimony to confirm that. On December 5, the 's powerful chief of staff, Gerry Butts, confirmed that there was a meeting at the Chateau Laurier where this issue was discussed again.
We must remember that the decision of the independent director of public prosecutions had already been made and it was not to be changed, as said by the attorney general.
On December 18, there was a meeting between Katie Telford and Gerry Butts, of the Prime Minister's Office, and the chief of staff to the former attorney general on this topic.
On December 19, the Clerk of the Privy Council, the most powerful public servant in the country, Mr. Wernick, told us at committee that he needed to “check in” with her to give her context in a phone call. Then there was Christmas, as usual, in December, and then there was a cabinet shuffle. Mr. Brison decided that he would leave, as we all know. There were only a couple of people affected by that cabinet shuffle, one of whom was the former attorney general, who was removed from that position and, as everyone knows, shortly thereafter resigned from cabinet.
The issue is whether there was inappropriate pressure upon the former attorney general. If there was, there are those who would argue that there was an obstruction of justice. When there is interference, reasonably perceived by an objective person, with the administration of justice, that is obstruction. It is a serious criminal charge, and we need to get to the bottom of it.
The question then becomes, was there inappropriate pressure? Was that line I talked about crossed? Let us examine it for a moment. First, it would appear to a reasonable person that the former attorney general did feel that this pressure existed. Imagine how many times this issue came up after the final decision was made. Imagine how many different people, both in the bureaucracy at the highest level and in the 's Office at the highest level, tried to speak to her about this issue. “What part of 'no' don't you understand?”, I hear her say. I was not there.
The Clerk of the Privy Council felt that he could advise us that, in fact, there was no inappropriate pressure. With the greatest of respect to an honourable senior public servant of great experience and service to Canada, how does he know? Was he at every one of those meetings? There were 50 meetings with people from SNC-Lavalin. There were 18 meetings with the 's Office alone. He was not there, nor was he there when meetings with the former attorney general were taking place, out of earshot, at the Chateau Laurier or who knows where. With great respect, first, he does not know, and second, he is not the former attorney general and cannot tell us what she felt and inferred from that conduct.
Let us look at the objective standard of whether this line was crossed. There were so many different people and so many different conversations and so much relentless advocacy to change a position. What about the consequences for not doing so? She is gone. The government does not like to hear the word “fired”, so I will say that she was removed from that role. I guess there were consequences, some would infer, from that undue pressure. I would, but I want to hear from her.
That takes us to the justice committee. The parliamentary secretary made much of the fact that this independent master of its own procedure at committee is going to get to the bottom of this. Excuse me, but we tried to do so. We tried to get other people than simply the former attorney general to come to committee, and we were swatted down like flies. They said that maybe after they heard from her, they might allow us to hear from the other people, the only other people who can tell the other side of the story. One would think they would want that if they felt there was nothing going on here, but they do not seem to want that.
Maybe there is another theory. Maybe the straw that broke the camel's back in the mind of our former attorney general was that the government continued to have a yawning gap between the rhetoric and the reality of indigenous law reform. It is no secret that the former attorney general was pushing hard on that. She made a number of speeches that seemed to suggest that she was unhappy with that. Frankly, maybe this clumsy effort to pressure her in this matter and then to have her removed was the straw that broke the camel's back. I simply do not know.
We heard this morning from the hon. parliamentary secretary, and from the on many occasions and from the Clerk of the Privy Council at committee, that we should not worry. They are going to have an inquiry by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and that is going to be good enough. With all due respect, it will not be good enough, because it is almost certain that there will not be anything found to be wrong in these circumstances, not because of the facts but because of the wording of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, under which the commissioner has said he will do an investigation.
Mr. Dion, the investigator, said that he has “reason to believe that a possible contravention of section 9 [of the act] may have occurred”. Section 9 prohibits a public office holder from seeking to influence a decision by another person so as to improperly further another person's private interest, which is what he said he is going to look at. However, here is the punchline: All the other cases that have ever been decided by former commissioner Mary Dawson and others have said that there is nothing in the act to suggest that political interests are to be included in the concept of private interests. If it is money, okay, but if it is other things, no. Therefore, there is very little likelihood that it will lead Canadians any closer to the truth, which we must have in these circumstances. Frankly, it is not about the and interests. It is about whether there was interference with the independent role of the former attorney general.
What about these deferred prosecution agreements, which was what was at stake here? I have to say that there is a great deal of griping as to whether these agreements would even be applicable in these circumstances. I have mentioned that they have not been used, because they are brand new. They were put into an omnibus budget bill, which kind of sounds like the Harper government. At the end of a big budget bill, we had a couple of sections thrown in.
I was on the justice committee. We had a half hour or an afternoon on this particular section, and I can assure members that the words “SNC-Lavalin” were never mentioned. We had no idea that this was what was at issue. These things were described as important changes to deal with white collar crime.
Deferred prosecution agreements do have a role to play in our system, but they may not be applicable here, because there are certain conditions set out in the Criminal Code before they can apply. For example, one has to voluntarily disclose wrongdoing, admit corporate responsibility, make reparations to people, and so forth. Maybe there was just no way this square peg could fit into that round hole. It may just be that there was no way these even applied.
What would we expect an attorney general to do? “I would love to help you, but in fact, the law doesn't allow it”. The punchline here is that under the corrupt foreign practices legislation Canada has, if the defence says that it is going to be harmful to our national economic interest, it is not applicable. The whole lobby by SNC-Lavalin, this gigantic 50-times-they-met-people lobby, was to try to tell us about the national economic interest. Therefore, for a number of reasons, people are wondering whether the former attorney general was being asked to do something that was simply not possible or was, in fact, illegal.
What were they trying to do if that was the case? Were they trying to get something done that was illegal, or were they trying to get the law changed so we could fix it? Today we read in the The Globe and Mail something that may be the answer. If one is found guilty of bribery or fraud abroad, one cannot do business with the Government of Canada for 10 years. However, do not worry, it appears that help is on the way. We are going to change that and say that we may give some discretion to some public servant to kind of change that 10 years to maybe six months, a slap on the wrist or something. If we cannot do it one way, if we cannot pressure an Attorney General to perhaps change things, then we will find another way to fix it.
This is serious. Transparency International reported in its 2018 report that Canada is lagging its fellow OECD countries on this issue. We are not doing the job. We have “regressed”, to use the word it put in its 2018 report. Therefore, it is serious. At the OECD and other places, the and Canada have talked about how we are right behind efforts to get at international white collar crime, bribery abroad and the like and that we were with them all the way. Well, maybe this was just another broken promise, and maybe that is what the former attorney general was thinking when she resigned.
The Liberals promised modest deficits when they ran, but they broke that promise. In my part of the world, they promised to redo the process that gave us this dreadful project that is going to do serious harm to southern resident killer whales and the indigenous way of life on the coast. They promised to “redo” that. He came to my riding and said that. I was there. However, he did not do that.
The Liberals promised to change the electoral system. My colleagues will remember that. I think it was several hundred times we heard the promise that the last election would be the last one under the first-past-the-post system. Of course, the Liberals changed their minds on that as well.
However, the promise I think Canadians have the right to care about the most, the one that was probably the most important, if one were to stand back from it, in a democracy, and the one that certainly got my attention, was the commitment to openness and accountability. I was completely in favour of that. I did a lot of work in the earlier part of my life on freedom of information. I believed the Liberals. I wanted to believe the government.
“It is time to shine more light on government”, it said in the Liberal 2015 campaign program.
“Openness and transparency will be our constant companions”, the Prime Minister said.
I would like to have a little openness and transparency at the justice committee. I would like to have an opportunity to hear from the protagonists in this important debate, the people in the 's Office and the former attorney general.
I can tell members that I am not very optimistic, because Mr. Wernick, who has been 37 years in the public service, concluded, in an answer to a question I posed, that solicitor-client privilege does not apply here. It is not about litigation privilege. Solicitor-client privilege is about when a lawyer gives advice to a client and has to go to the grave with any secrets he or she hears in advising that client. Lots of lawyers say that it is simply not applicable in these circumstances, because we are not talking about advice. We are talking about whether a person was browbeaten in the exercise of her authority as the former attorney general. That is the issue here.
With regard to litigation privilege, there are two lawsuits. One is a case in Montreal, I believe, which has to do with fraud and bribery. It has nothing to do with what is going on here, nothing, not a thing. It does not talk about litigation and public privilege and the Attorney General. The second case is what most lawyers who do administrative law would call a Hail Mary pass. Believe it or not, SNC-Lavalin is seeking a judicial review of the prosecutorial discretion of the independent director of public prosecutions because she made a mistake in how she exercised her discretion. If ever there was a Hail Mary pass, it is that one. Those are the two cases the government wants to hide behind on the basis of litigation and public privilege.
Let us just review this. First, Mr. Wernick says that there is no such thing in these circumstances. I agree with him. Second, we have no advice to the government in the circumstances at all. That is not at issue. Third, the government refers to litigation privilege in two cases that have literally nothing to do with this. I am very proud of our justice committee chair, who concluded that any effort to use the sub judice rule in that regard would not likely be of any merit. I do not see that as an issue at all.
I know that we can get caught up in the weeds here. I know that we can get right into the specifics while Canadians wonder what the big deal is. This is not climate. This is not the housing crisis. This is not the opioid crisis. However, this is our democracy. This is about whether we live in a banana republic or not. Do we live in a country where we respect the rule of law and the independence of the Attorney General, or do we not? Are we prepared to take a risk and not thoroughly investigate whether there was improper interference, at the highest level, with the role of an Attorney General of Canada? I am not saying that there was. I do not know. I was not there. However, the Liberals would use their majority in the justice committee to not allow us to find that out, to hide behind solicitor-client privilege. The could not tell us what it was or what was so complicated. He could not tell us who could waive it. Read the testimony.
Canadians deserve answers. We need to get to the bottom of this. It is important for democracy. It is important for the House of Commons. It is important for Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I rise in strong support of our Conservative opposition motion to call on the to appear before the justice committee, under oath, so he can answer questions about his involvement in the interference of the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
As each day passes, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the is up to his eyeballs in this sordid affair. With each day, it seems there is a new version of events from the Prime Minister.
When The Globe and Mail article was first published, the hoped he could wash his hands clean of the entire matter by issuing a blanket denial. When that was not going to cut it, the Prime Minister gave a carefully crafted legal response, which stated that the decision was the former attorney general's and the former attorney general's alone. Then he said that the fact the former attorney general was still in cabinet spoke for itself. Well, the former attorney general immediately resigned from cabinet following that statement. So much for that explanation.
The then stated that there was no pressure exerted on the former attorney general, until last Thursday, when the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, appeared before our committee and admitted that, in fact, there was pressure. Wernick said that we should not worry, because there was no inappropriate pressure, as if there is a distinction between appropriate pressure and inappropriate pressure. The fact is that any pressure exerted on the former attorney general is entirely inappropriate.
In that regard, I would like to make reference to the late Justice Rosenberg and his dissertation on the independence of the office of Attorney General, wherein he summarizes the Shawcross doctrine. Justice Rosenberg stated, “responsibility for the decision is that of the Attorney General alone; the government is not to put pressure on him or her.” Period, no pressure.
What we are also learning, as a result of the testimony of Mr. Wernick, is that the 's version of events, his explanation about what happened, is simply untrue. The Prime Minister said that it was the attorney general's decision alone and that there was no pressure.
In fact, it turns out that the former attorney general did make a decision, and she unambiguously communicated that decision to the on September 17. Her decision was that she would not overturn the decision of the direction of public prosecutions not to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
One would expect that upon this decision being conveyed to the , that Prime Minister, out of respect for the former attorney general, out of respect for the independence of the office of Attorney General and the sanctity of that independence, would have left it at that and accepted the decision. However, that is not what happened.
What happened following September 17, when the former attorney general announced to the her decision, was a concerted campaign, orchestrated and coordinated by the Prime Minister, through his surrogates, to change the former attorney general's mind. In that regard, it is important we go through some of the important timelines.
We know that on December 5, the former attorney general met with Gerald Butts, the 's principal secretary and top political adviser, to discuss—guess what? It was SNC-Lavalin. On September 17, the decision had been made. Nearly three months later, the Prime Minister's top political adviser is talking to the former attorney general about that decision. When the former attorney general did not appear to bow to Mr. Butts, we learn that Mr. Butts and Katie Telford, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, hauled the former attorney general's chief of staff before them to discuss yet again the SNC-Lavalin matter and the matter of a deferred prosecution agreement.
Then to make it ever so clear that they were not satisfied with the decision of the former attorney general not to intervene, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Wernick, on December 19, met with the Prime Minister. Following that meeting, he saw fit to pick up the phone and, as he put it, “check in on the SNC-Lavalin file” with the former attorney general. He further stated, “I conveyed to her that a lot of her colleagues and the Prime Minister were quite anxious about what they were hearing and reading”.
He said “quite anxious”. I thought a decision had already been made. The says it is her decision and her decision alone, that there was no pressure, yet what we learned is that following that decision, there were meetings involving the Prime Minister, his chief of staff, his principal secretary and the Clerk of the Privy Council. The Prime Minister can say with a straight face that the decision was hers and hers alone to make and that there was no pressure; it is an insult to Canadians that the Prime Minister would have the audacity to say that in the face of that chronology.
However, it gets worse from the public interest standpoint. As soon as the Clerk of the Privy Council expressed the anxiousness of the , the former attorney general went on vacation. It was Christmastime and the new year. I think she was in Bali, and before she could make it back to Ottawa, she had a call from the Prime Minister to come back to Ottawa. When she came back, she found out that she was going to be fired as the Attorney General, and she was. At the first opportunity, the fired her.
He said it was her decision and her decision alone to make. What we are learning is that there was only one decision that the Prime Minister would accept, which was to overrule the director of public prosecutions. The only decision the Prime Minister was prepared to accept was to interfere in an independent criminal prosecution, and until that decision was made, the Prime Minister did not care to what lengths he would go or the lengths that he would instruct his officials to go in interfering with the independence of the office of the Attorney General, and that is a very, very serious matter. That is highly problematic.
Quite frankly, it is time for the to come clean. It is time for the Prime Minister to be transparent. It is time for the Prime Minister to provide the answers that Canadians deserve. That is precisely what our motion seeks to do. If the Prime Minister has nothing to hide, then he should come before a committee, be put under oath—with the consequence, by the way, of perjury—and let the sunshine come in.
That is what we need: sunshine. We know that this is a who talks about sunshine as the best disinfectant. Let him answer.
Mr. Speaker, we are here today with a motion calling upon the of Canada to testify under oath as to what he knew or what his role was in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
For those who are watching, who may have heard about this over the last couple of weeks, I want to break down what happened.
SNC-Lavalin is a Montreal-based company. Its description is that it provides “engineering, procurement and construction services”. It has a lot of employees in the Montreal area. It has won a lot of major taxpayer-funded, multi-million-dollar contracts from the federal government, so there are a lot of votes at stake and there is a lot of profit at stake here.
In 2015, the RCMP laid charges against this company. The charges alleged that the company offered bribes worth $47.7 million to Libyan officials, and Moammar Gadhafi's son was named in the court documents, I believe. The company is also alleged to have defrauded Libyan public agencies of approximately $129 million.
Recently we found out that the RCMP has laid out a bribery scheme here in Canada with the company, involving the $127-million Jacques Cartier Bridge contract. In this case, a federal official pleaded guilty last year to accepting more than $2.3 million worth of payments from this company. What is the cost of doing business here?
In 2015, the RCMP said, “Corruption of foreign officials undermines good governance and sustainable economic development.” This is a huge deal.
Fast-forward to this year. The company—this very wealthy, well-funded company—went on the lobbying spree to end all lobbying sprees. Imagine American-style lobbyists. It was a full court press on the government, on everybody. There was meeting after meeting with the 's Office. They would not take no for an answer, because the company wanted to get out of this. That is the motivation here.
Why? It is because if SNC-Lavalin is convicted, the company would not be able to bid on federal contracts. That is the big penalty here. There is a lot at stake.
In the budget bill, after the company's lobbying, the Liberals snuck in something called a deferred prosecution agreement. In this bazillion-page document that had everything under the sun, the Liberals snuck in a major change to our laws. A deferred prosecution agreement, simply put, would allow SNC-Lavalin, if it went this route, to not have to go to jail or be convicted. It could just pay a fine, and then the company would also be eligible to bid on federal contracts.
This is all happening behind closed doors. It gets snuck into an omnibus budget bill, and the bill passes. However, we have something called the Public Prosecution Service, which is at arm's length, and it is the Public Prosecution Service that makes the call on whether or not this deferred prosecution agreement is used. The public prosecutor said that no, the service was not doing this and the case was going to trial.
Then the former held firm on that decision and said it was going to trial. Then, according to the Clerk of the Privy Council in testimony last week, after the 's story on this issue has changed a million times, he essentially said that they went to the former attorney general and laid out the economic implications of what would happen if this went to trial and there was a conviction. This happened after she had made her decision to proceed.
What we are talking about here is the 's Office and the supposedly non-partisan head of the public service standing accused of being involved in obstruction of justice at the highest levels. That is why the needs to testify in front of Canadians.
Let me lay out five reasons that this is so important.
First of all, keep in mind the stood her ground after all of this and then what happened? She was fired. The fired her. This is a potential obstruction of justice. This is not just an ethics breach. This is not just an Aga Khan island slap-on-the-wrist situation. There could potentially be serious criminality involved in this.
Second, what message does this send? It sends a message to everybody in this country that there are two sets of rules, that there are two different justice systems in this country, in Canada, one for people who can afford millions of dollars for lobbyists and can apply pressure based on ridings in Montreal, and one for racialized communities, women, who do not have that opportunity. We can sit here and talk about all sorts of ways to deal with that issue, but that is the reality. There are many people in Canada who do not get this opportunity and that is a huge problem.
The third thing is that the , “Mr. Feminist”, acts like he is such a feminist and stands up for women. The Clerk of the Privy Council, at the justice committee last week, basically said the experienced things differently when he was trying to explain whether this was “inappropriate pressure” that could be criminal. Where did we hear that before? The Prime Minister had a groping allegation and he used those exact same words: She experienced it “differently”. This is not he said, she said. As Maclean's magazine said, “It’s a ‘he, he, he-said'.” He is a fake feminist.
The is somebody who wraps feminism around him like a warm, fuzzy cloak to get votes and then when the rubber hits the road, when lobbyists come upon him, it is “she experienced it differently” and “she should have done something else”. That is garbage. That is disgusting. He needs to be held accountable for that in front of the justice committee. One does not get to stand up and claim to be a feminist and then do that to a woman. That just cannot be done.
The has also kept her silent. He has kept her muzzled and on a leash while he goes out and spins this story. That is disgusting. That is wrong. He needs to be held to account for that.
Finally, as a Calgary MP, deferred prosecution agreements are not supposed to consider economic arguments, yet the Clerk of the Privy Council said in the justice committee that he told the about the economic argument and that a lot of jobs were at stake.
Maybe the company should not have bribed Libyan officials to begin with. Maybe it should not have bribed people for contracts. Maybe there should be a cost for doing that. Where is the economic considerations for all of the punitive policies the government has put against Albertan energy companies?
Constituents in my riding are looking at this and asking why Montreal gets deferred prosecution agreements. As we found out today, the government is considering changing the rules, so even if the company is convicted, it can still bid on federal contracts. Why are those jobs better than jobs in my riding? The role of a prime minister is to unite our country. All jobs are important. The should stand for justice.
This is disgusting. This is what every single one of us in this place should be standing up against, regardless of political stripe. Every person sitting on the Liberal backbench is not here just for themselves. They are here to stand up for justice and for their community. Their role is to hold the government to account, even if that government is of the same partisan stripe as they are. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where we stand for what is right or we stand for nothing at all.
The was wrong. He should stand in front of the justice committee and answer for the fact that he has put words in a strong woman's mouth, that he said that one set of jobs is better than another set of jobs, that he stands accused of obstruction of justice.
Everybody in this country, regardless of how we vote, stands for one thing and that is the independence of our judiciary, the fact that our country can stand tall and proud and say we do not do business the same way that other countries do. That starts today with the leader of our country. He needs to be in front of this committee and he needs to be held to account.
Every person who votes against the motion will be giving him a shield for this type of abrogation of democracy. Every person who votes against the motion should be held to account by the people in their communities who do not want to be divided on this type of garbage, and this is the stuff that can divide our country.
When, at the highest level of government, the leader of our country, a fake feminist, stands up for jobs with a company that is accused of bribing Libyans, we have to get our act together and it starts with the .