Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by reiterating our respect for and our confidence in the two independent processes that are currently under way. Members are already well aware that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is holding hearings on the issue and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's investigation will provide a non-partisan perspective.
At the outset, the member for Vancouver Granville has served her constituents and the country with distinction in her role now and also in her role as minister of veterans affairs and formerly as attorney general of Canada.
With respect to the two processes, we firmly believe that these processes will be thoroughly and fairly conducted and that they will allow facts and multiple perspectives to be shared. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada already appeared voluntarily before the committee on Thursday, February 21, and he will continue to offer his full co-operation with that committee. We also know that these processes will ensure that Canadians get the answers and information they seek.
As we have seen, committee work provides detailed information to parliamentarians on issues of concern to the electorate and 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 can gather the information necessary for their studies in a number of ways. Most often, committees gather information on a particular subject by hearing from witnesses, as we saw with the meetings of February 21, 25 and 27, and accepting briefs and written opinions.
As we know, the committee in this case has already held three meetings on the subject of remediation agreements, the Shawcross doctrine and discussions between the office of the Attorney General and government colleagues. If I may, parenthetically, as a constitutional lawyer, to hear such robust discussion here in this chamber and at committee about such a hitherto relatively unknown doctrine as the Shawcross doctrine has indeed warmed the cockles of my heart.
On Thursday, February 21, the committee heard from the current Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada, Madame Nathalie Drouin; and the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Michael Wernick.
On February 25, the committee heard from Mary G. Condon, interim dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, not my law school but a good law school in Toronto nonetheless; Maxime St-Hilaire, associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sherbrooke; Wendy Berman, lawyer and partner at Cassels Brock & Blackwell; Kenneth Jull, lawyer at Gardiner Roberts; and academic Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, senior associate counsel at Woodward & Company and professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC.
On February 27, the committee heard from the former attorney general of Canada herself.
The committee has indicated that it is prepared to hear from more witnesses should that be deemed necessary, and just today, it made a determination, which is important, to recall Mr. Wernick and Madame Drouin and to call for the first time, the former principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Gerald Butts.
The witnesses have, to date, provided helpful information to assist the committee and Canadians generally to understand remediation agreements, the Shawcross doctrine, as I mentioned, and the discussions between the office of the Attorney General of Canada and government colleagues, in addition to the roles and responsibilities of the Attorney General of Canada.
The Attorney General, for example, stated that it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister and officials to discuss the SNC-Lavalin case with the former attorney general and for her to discuss the matter with cabinet colleagues.
In her testimony, Nathalie Drouin explained that the director of public prosecutions is responsible for initiating and conducting federal criminal prosecutions on behalf of the Crown.
She added that while the director of public prosecutions is responsible for conducting federal criminal prosecutions, she can support the Attorney General and provide him with legal advice in exercising his powers under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. In her role as a public servant and lawyer, she supports her department and strives to provide government decision-makers with all of the professional and non-partisan advice they need to carry out their duties.
Ms. Drouin also explained that her role is to provide legal advice on any acts, and she can provide legal advice to the Attorney General to make sure that he understands how the DPP operates and also give him advice if he decides to exercise one of his rights.
At the committee, Mary Condon, another witness, helpfully added, “It is now established by constitutional convention that the attorney general will make an independent decision to prosecute or not to prosecute. This requires making a two-step determination”, which we heard about but bears underscoring, “about, first, the sufficiency of the evidence and, second, whether the prosecution is in the public interest. Because of the necessity to consider the public interest, commentators often say that the prosecutorial decisions made by an attorney general are at the intersection of law and politics....
“As Professor Edwards argues in his book, 'The task of the attorney general or [the director of public prosecutions] is a difficult exercise of weighing a number of competing considerations.' It's is in this context that the Shawcross Doctrine becomes relevant.”
With respect to what the Clerk of the Privy Council has said, during his testimony, Mr. Michael Wernick explained, “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.”
He went on to say, “I can tell you my view very firmly is that [the conversations with the former minister of justice and attorney general] were entirely appropriate, lawful, legal.”
In order to facilitate the work of ongoing investigations, we announced an unprecedented waiver that is intended to fully sweep away obstacles. The exceptional waiver, which was passed by an order in council, addresses cabinet confidentiality, solicitor-client privilege and any other duties of confidentiality, to the extent that they apply. That waiver should remove any doubt as to the ability of any person who engaged in discussions on this matter to fully participate in the committee process.
We took this step because we know that it was important for Canadians that the former attorney general be able to speak openly at the justice committee. Importantly, that waiver also empowers others who had discussions on the subject matter, such as former principal secretary Mr. Butts.
As we have said many times, solicitor-client privilege is an important part of the Canadian legal system and should only be waived in the appropriate circumstances. It is an important protection that allows lawyers across the country to engage on the toughest issues and provide their clients with candid advice. That includes the Attorney General of Canada, who is the government's lawyer. As the former attorney general has stated, the issue of solicitor-client privilege is complex and layered.
That being said, our government has been clear from the outset that we have been seeking to provide the utmost transparency in this matter without jeopardizing active court cases, of which there are two. Let me underscore: there is the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and there is secondarily a judicial review, which has been initiated by SNC-Lavalin. Two cases are currently before the courts in this country at this time.
We have delivered on our commitment by providing Canadians with the transparency they deserve and fairness to the former attorney general in a way that preserves, rather than undermines, solicitor-client privilege, the right to a fair hearing in cases that are currently active, the integrity of the position of the director of public prosecutions and the rule of law in our country more generally.
The integrity of judicial proceedings is a priority for our government, as it should be for any government. That is why the waiver does not cover any information shared by the director of public prosecutions with the former minister in relation to SNC.
Let us talk about the committee. This has already been the subject of some of the opening interventions in the House.
Committees of the House do very good work. In this case, the justice committee has heard from numerous witnesses. Just yesterday, it heard over four hours of testimony from the former attorney general herself, where not only the three recognized parties were able to participate but the Bloc Québécois participated, the Green Party participated, and even the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation of Canada participated in questions. That is a good day for parliamentary democracy.
The committee has indicated that it is prepared to hear from more witnesses, and indeed, it has already taken that step. I refute outright the opening statement made by the member for Portage—Lisgar in which she stated that the committee was somehow coerced into calling witnesses.
At its opening meeting, the committee decided to call three witnesses. At its second meeting, it added to the witness list. At its third meeting, today, on procedural matters, it added a further three witnesses. What she said is simply wrong and needs to be refuted on the record.
We on this side of the House have confidence in the committee process. That is why we have empowered committee members. That is why we have resourced committees. We are confident that the committee hearings, at both this committee and other committees, will continue to be thoroughly and fairly conducted, and we will provide Canadians with the answers and the information they seek.
What I need to say at this point is that in the meantime, while the committee is undertaking this important work, we as a government remain keenly focused on Canadians and addressing their needs. I will cite just one example. We heard this week the numbers from Statistics Canada about who is living in poverty and who has been extracted from poverty in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, 825,000 Canadians have been lifted out of poverty since we took office, including 283,000 children. Those include children in my riding of Parkdale—High Park, where $3.5 million is delivered tax free every month to 10,520 children to help them and their families pay for basic necessities. Those are some of the things we are focused on, in terms of Canadians' needs, while the committee undertakes its important work.
Let us talk briefly about the roles and responsibilities of the director of public prosecutions and prosecutors that are authorized to act on that director's behalf, which is set out in the Director of Public Prosecutions Act.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the PPSC, fulfills the responsibilities of the Attorney General of Canada in the discharge of the Attorney General's criminal law mandate by prosecuting offences that fall within federal jurisdiction, criminal offences, and by contributing to strengthening the criminal justice system. The creation of the PPSC reflected the decision to make transparent the principle of prosecutorial independence, free from any improper influence.
To that end, in a statement published on February 12, 2019, in relation to a different matter, the prosecution of Mark Norman, the director of public prosecutions, Madame Kathleen Roussel, stated, “I am confident that our prosecutors, in this and every other case, exercised their discretion independently and free from any political or partisan consideration.”
Under the Department of Justice Act, the Attorney General is responsible for the regulation of the conduct of all litigation for or against the Crown or any department. In the conduct of civil litigation, the Attorney General does not have exclusive decision-making power over litigation positions. In civil litigation, it is often very difficult to sift through the available and viable legal arguments to determine what position needs to be taken in a given case. In that sense, civil litigation is markedly different from criminal litigation. The work of identifying those who need to be prosecuted for a given crime, deciding whether proceedings should be initiated, and determining sentences needs to be based on the evidence alone, to ensure that criminal justice is properly administered.
However, it is always advisable for the Attorney General to be informed of the relevant context, including the potential consequences of a given prosecution. As we know, the Attorney General can issue directives to the director of public prosecutions that may be general or pertain to specific prosecutions. When a directive is issued, it is issued through a totally transparent process. It is published in the Canada Gazette and accessible to all Canadians. What is more, a general directive must be preceded by a consultation with the director of public prosecutions.
The Attorney General may, after consulting the director of public prosecutions, assume conduct of the prosecution. This is also done through a transparent process in which the Attorney General must publish a notice of intent to assume conduct of a prosecution in the Canada Gazette.
With respect to third-party involvement, it is quite appropriate for the Attorney General to consult with cabinet colleagues before exercising his or her power to issue directives or initiate prosecutions under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. Consultations are often important, since the Attorney General must hear perspectives that go beyond a particular case.
If the Attorney General decides to issue a directive or to assume conduct of the prosecution, he or she must make the final decision. It is important to note that the Attorney General has the final say.
To maintain the director's independence, all of the Attorney General's instructions must be in writing and published in the Canada Gazette.
The director must inform the Attorney General of any prosecution, or intervention that the director intends to make, that raises important questions of general interest. This gives the Attorney General the opportunity to intervene in proceedings or to assume conduct of a prosecution.
Furthermore, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada must provide an annual report to the Attorney General to be tabled in Parliament.
Prosecutorial independence is truly the cornerstone of our democracy, as shown by the relationship between the Attorney General of Canada and the director of public prosecutions. This builds confidence in the justice system and guarantees that prosecutions will not be perceived as being unduly influenced by politics. Instead, federal offences are prosecuted by experienced, qualified prosecutors across the country.
I would like to refer to some of the testimony that we heard before the standing committee. First is testimony is from the former attorney general, who testified yesterday. What she said specifically is that “I do not want members of this committee or Canadians to think that the integrity of our institutions has somehow evaporated. The integrity of our justice system, the integrity of the director of public prosecutions and prosecutors is intact.” That is a quote from the member for Vancouver Granville directly, from yesterday's testimony.
A second quote from a different witness reiterated the exact same point, saying “I think Canadians should feel assured that they work in a democracy under the rule of law.” The witness continued, “I think Canadians need to be assured that their police and investigators with the power of the state operate independently and that the prosecution service and the state charging people with offences are completely independent. There is a legislative and statutory shield around that which demonstrably is working.” That was the Clerk of the Privy Council.
That is important testimony, because it underscores the very important point that was introduced into this debate by the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills.
Our government is unwavering in its commitment to maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice and in the independence of the judiciary. The Prime Minister strongly maintains, as he has from the beginning, that he and his team acted appropriately and professionally. Our government completely disagrees with the former attorney general's characterization of events.
We will always stand up for Canadian workers and the importance of the rule of law. Here I want to just underscore the statutory basis for standing up for those workers. The statutory basis is in the Criminal Code itself. I am going to read into the record paragraph 715.3(1)(f) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which refers to the remediation agreement that we are speaking about tonight in this emergency debate. This paragraph talks about the purpose of remediation agreements, and it says their purpose is:
(f) to reduce the negative consequences of the wrongdoing for persons — employees, customers, pensioners and others — who did not engage in the wrongdoing, while holding responsible those individuals who did engage in that wrongdoing.
That is the point of these kinds of agreements. It is not some sort of laissez-passer for individuals. It is about holding corporate leaders responsible for their activities, making sure they are held accountable, but not de facto or actually in fact holding responsible workers on the front lines, pensioners who rely upon that corporation for their pensions, for actions that were not taken by them and decisions that were not made by them. They should not be the sacrificial lambs for this kind of policy.
That is what we are debating here today. That is what we are standing up for.
As I mentioned in the statement, and I will conclude on this point, on February 12 the director of public prosecutions stated, “I am confident that our prosecutors, in this and every...case, exercise their discretion independently and free from any political or partisan consideration.”
That directly responds to the concerns about the rule of law, the independence of our processes and the independence of the judiciary. Those are important points that all 338 of us must share and do share. That is not being encroached upon here. What is being discussed is a specific case that does not touch upon the rule of law, which remains intact, thankfully, in this country.
An hon. member: Does he not need to pay attention to the rules?