PMO knew about disagreement between prosecutors on SNC
Official says office told in fall about debate within Public Prosecution Service over settling of case
By ROBERT FIFE, DANIEL LEBLANC
Tuesday, March 26, 2019 Print Edition, Page A1
OTTAWA -- The Prime Minister's Office received information last fall that there was an internal dispute between the independent director of public prosecutions Kathleen Roussel and one of the lower-ranking prosecutors handling the SNC-Lavalin bribery and fraud prosecution, a federal official says.
The information did not come from prosecutors on the case but rather from someone associated with SNC-Lavalin, added the official who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter freely.
Former attorney-general Jody WilsonRaybould first spoke publicly of the apparent dispute among prosecutors on Feb. 27, when she appeared in front of the justice committee of the House. According to Ms.
Wilson-Raybould, two PMO officials - Quebec adviser Mathieu Bouchard and senior adviser Elder Marques - told her chief of staff on Sept. 16 that Ms. Roussel was opposed to a settlement with SNC-Lavalin, while a federal prosecutor on the file was looking to negotiate an out-of-court agreement.
Deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin was asked at the justice committee on March 6 about whether it was appropriate for political officials to talk to prosecutors about cases. She said, "Crown prosecutors don't have conversations about specific cases with the PMO."
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) informed the Montreal-based engineering company on Sept. 4 that its bid for a deferred-prosecution agreement, also called a remediation agreement, had failed. The PPSC's rationale for refusing to enter into negotiations with SNC-Lavalin has not been made public and was not meant to be shared inside the federal government beyond Ms. Wilson-Raybould in her capacity as attorney-general.
Ms. Roussel's office declined to say if there was an internal dispute over whether to grant a deferred-prosecution agreement.
Last week, SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Daniela Pizzuto said the company was unaware of "the internal workings or decision-making" within the PPSC "and consequently could not have, and did not, inform anyone in government or elsewhere of any such positions."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's director of communications, Cameron Ahmad, refused to confirm Friday whether or not the PMO was aware of the apparent dispute on the prosecution side. However, the federal official who spoke to The Globe and Mail confirmed that Mr. Trudeau's office was aware of the internal disagreement.
Mr. Trudeau said on Monday that he is leaving it to Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to find out how two of his senior advisers had inside knowledge of discussions within the PPSC about the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin over its alleged business dealings in Libya.
At a news conference in Maple Ridge, B.C., Mr. Trudeau was asked how the PMO obtained the information since the PPSC told The Globe on Saturday it had not shared any internal information with either SNC-Lavalin or the PMO.
"There remain a number of questions that the Ethics Commissioner and others are looking into, primarily the Ethics Commissioner," he told reporters.
On Feb. 11, Mr. Dion announced an investigation under the section of the Conflict of Interest Act that prohibits a publicoffice holder from "seeking to influence a decision of another person so as to improperly further another person's private interests."
However, opposition MPs and experts have raised questions about the ability of Mr. Dion to get to the bottom of the matter, saying the real issue is not whether government or political officials were in a conflict of interest but rather whether they placed inappropriate pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to order a settlement.
Asked why he has kept the two advisers in the PMO, Mr. Trudeau gave a lengthy response about how he is looking at revamping his office as a result of the SNC-Lavalin controversy. Mr. Trudeau's long-time friend and principal secretary, Gerald Butts, quit his position in the PMO on Feb.12.
"We have also moved forward in ways that change some of our internal processes so that situations like this won't arrive in the future," Mr. Trudeau said. "That's why we are moving forward in a meaningful and tangible way on changing some of the processes within our office. We're bringing in some external advice and we're creating more support for caucuses."
On Monday, SNC-Lavalin's spokeswoman, Ms. Pizzuto, did not respond to a request from The Globe on whether anyone working for SNC-Lavalin had communicated the firm's discussions with prosecutors to the PMO as the senior government official says.
Ms. Roussel's office would not say if an internal investigation had been launched into a possible leak of information about the case to outsiders.
"The PPSC can confirm that PPSC prosecutors and staff did not release any information or provide any details or opinions in relation to the SNC-Lavalin prosecution and/or remediation agreements to the PMO," Nathalie Houle, who handles media relations at the PPSC, said in a statement on Monday.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt said she is troubled that PMO officials were using the information to try to get around Ms. Roussel and persuade the then-attorney-general to order a deferred prosecution agreement.
"If that information was given to the Prime Minister's Office, they should never have utilized it in trying to convince the attorney-general to go and overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions and they should have sought some kind of counsel and advice on what they should do with that information," Ms. Raitt said.
Michael Bryant, a former Ontario attorney-general and now head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said it was completely inappropriate for "the PMO to try to play one side off against the other," adding "that goes well beyond input and looks like manipulation."
Ms. Wilson-Raybould determined by mid-September that she would not issue a directive to overturn the PPSC's decision in this case and told that to the Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, in a Sept. 17 meeting.
However, she testified that the PMO repeatedly attempted to persuade her to reconsider her decision until December, when Ms. Wilson-Raybould was told by Mr.
Wernick that her position was putting her on a collision course with Mr. Trudeau.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the position of minister of justice and attorney-general on Jan. 14 and named minister of veterans affairs. Mr. Trudeau has denied he moved Ms. Wilson-Raybould because of her position on SNC-Lavalin.
On Feb. 7, The Globe reported that the Prime Minister's Office put pressure on the then-attorney-general to negotiate a settlement without trial for SNC-Lavalin.
In the fallout from The Globe report, Ms.
Wilson-Raybould and Mr. Butts resigned while Jane Philpott quit as Treasury Board president, citing an attempt to interfere in the judicial system. On March 18, Mr. Wernick retired, saying he had lost the "trust and respect" of the opposition parties over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Canadians may find out more about what transpired when Ms. Wilson-Raybould submits additional "relevant facts and evidence" to the justice committee this week that she says will back up her previous testimony about attempts by Mr.
Trudeau and top aides to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial.
But Ms. Wilson-Raybould has also asked Mr. Trudeau to waive cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-general privilege so she can talk about the period of time from when she was shuffled out of the Justice Ministry in early January to her resignation from cabinet last month.
The Prime Minister told reporters Monday that there was no need to grant another waiver to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, saying the justice committee had "full airing" of the matter. Last week, the Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down hearings on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The House of Commons ethics committee meets Tuesday and the opposition is pushing to have Ms. Wilson-Raybould testify there.
The Liberals hold a majority on the ethics committee, although opposition members are hoping Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has been sympathetic to Ms. Wilson-Raybould's position, will side with them to force a hearing.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the Prime Minister "has something to hide" and urged him to waive privilege and allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould to appear before the committee. On the weekend, he noted several Liberal MPs were quoted saying Ms. Wilson-Raybould should clear the air in the House of Commons, where she is covered by parliamentary immunity.
"If Justin Trudeau shuts down the ethics committee, we will know that all the comments over the last 48 hours were lies and that they don't actually want the truth out," Mr. Scheer said.
Meanwhile, in a news release Monday, SNC-Lavalin sought to clarify recent statements from its chief executive Neil Bruce, who told The Globe and other media that the company never made an argument for a settlement based on economic reasons such as job losses.
The company said that it always "made it clear" to the government that a remediation agreement was the best way to protect its jobs in Canada, while insisting "the government of Canada was never threatened by SNC-Lavalin" of job losses or a move of its headquarters out of the country if it did not get a deal.
"A [remediation agreement] would lessen the tremendous uncertainty for SNC-Lavalin's work force and would ensure that its headquarters can remain and prosper in Canada," the company said.
With reports from Ian Bailey in Vancouver and Sean Fine in Toronto
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is looking at revamping the PMO as a result of the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS