Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had no knowledge of a conversation that was secretly taped by former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin because he was not briefed by Canada’s top civil servant.
The reason? “Everybody went on holidays the next day,” says Frank Addario, the lawyer for former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick in a statement to the Star.
That explanation comes a day after the House of Commons Justice committee released bombshell audio of Wilson-Raybould and Wernick in a Dec. 19 phone call that lasted 17 minutes. Trudeau has claimed he didn’t know about the controversial exchange.
“The clerk raised the issue with the AG as part of his job to manage relations between the PM and his cabinet ministers,” said Addario. “When everyone returned at the beginning of January, the first burning issue was the (Scott) Brison resignation and a cabinet shuffle. The SNC issue never made it back to the top of the discussion list.”
Brison, a Liberal MP, abruptly resigned from his role as president of the Treasury Board after representing the Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants for 22 years.
In the taped, confrontational conversation, Wilson-Raybould repeatedly warns Wernick that the prime minister and his officials were engaging in political interference with the SNC-Lavalin prosecution. The conversation ends with Wernick warning Wilson-Raybould that he was concerned about reaction from the Prime Minister over her handling of the case.
Wilson-Raybould had refused to intervene in the corruption trial of the Quebec-based company and to negotiate a remediation agreement. The agreement would have allowed the engineering firm to avoid a criminal trial.
“It is entirely inappropriate and it is political interference,” she told Wernick in their conversation.
However, Wernick’s lawyer said the high-stakes standoff between the two was not reported to the prime minister.
“The Clerk never discussed SNC again with the PM or PMO until someone leaked the story to the Globe and Mail in early February,” said Addario.
Wilson-Raybould’s secret taping of the discussion without Wernick’s knowledge has also come under fire from some members of the legal community who say it raises ethical questions.
The preliminary inquiry into the bribery and fraud case against SNC-Lavalin resumes Monday, April 1, with defence submissions to be made.
With files from Tonda MacCharles
Tony Wong is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong