Vancouver’s Jody Wilson-Raybould resigns from cabinet

Abrupt departure follows allegations that the prime minister improperly tried to influence her when she was justice minister

Jody-Wilson Raybould was Canada's first Indigenous minister of justice | jwilson-raybould.liberal.ca

Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, who had been minister of veterans affairs, announced that she is leaving cabinet, in a letter dated February 12 and tweeted out this morning.

Vancouver South MP, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has taken over the ministry of veterans affairs, at least in the short term.

Wilson-Raybould has been in the spotlight recently after the Globe and Mail last week published allegations from unnamed sources, who said that unspecified people in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office had tried to pressure Wilson-Raybould, when she was minister of justice, to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSOC) to settle its court case that alleged fraud and bribery against Canadian multinational infrastructure giant SNC Lavalin.

Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of being minister of justice on January 14, but Trudeau kept her in cabinet as the new minister of veterans affairs – a post that many saw as being a demotion.

In her letter, she referenced the “matters that have been in the media over the last week,” and said that she had retained the services of the Honourable Thomas Albert Cromwell, as counsel. His advice will be around what she is legally able to discuss, she said in the letter.

Cromwell is a former Supreme Court of Canada justice and he works out of the Vancouver and Ottawa offices of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.  He spoke to Business in Vancouver last year about his life after being on Canada’s top court.

Trudeau has repeatedly said that the Globe and Mail story is not true and that neither he nor others in his office directed Wilson-Raybould to tell the PPSOC to settle its case against SNC Lavalin. He did not, however, explicitly say at the time that there was no pressure for her to do so. 

A prime minister pressuring a justice minister to direct the PPSOC on how to act on a case would be seen as an inappropriate attempt to influence the administration of justice. 

The minister of justice is legally allowed to direct the PPSOC to settle court cases. In those instances, however, he or she would have to be public about having offered that direction and be public with an explanation for why.

Wilson-Raybould, days ago, released a statement saying that she was bound by solicitor-client privilege and could not comment on the allegations. That spurred opposition-party leaders to call on Trudeau to waive that privilege and allow Wilson-Raybould to speak freely.

Trudeau, on February 11, while in Metro Vancouver, said that he had met with Wilson-Raybould during his visit and that both of them recalled a meeting last fall when he had told her that the decision on whether to tell the PPSOC to settle its lawsuit against SNC Lavalin, or not, was entirely up to her.

"Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself," he told a scrum of reporters, inferring that she was supportive of his government, and showing that, on the afternoon of February 11, Trudeau expected that Wilson-Raybould would stay in the cabinet.

Were the PPSOC to settle its prosecution of alleged fraud charges, which relate to alleged bribery in Libya between 2001 and 2011, SNC Lavalin would likely pay a fine. SNC Lavalin has said that it no longer employs those alleged to be involved in the wrongdoing and that no such activities now take place.

Were SNC Lavalin to be convicted in a lengthy, and expensive, court case, its ability to apply for government contracts in Canada would be halted for 10 years – something that could endanger many of the 9,000 or so SNC Lavalin workers’ jobs in Canada. Those job losses would also therefore hit the economy at large, and federal coffers, as those workers would not be paying as much tax. That result could also turn the workers against the federal Liberal party in an election that is set for October 21.

Wilson-Raybould, who is a rookie MP, shot to prominence in 2015 as Canada's first Indigenous minister of justice. She is a former Crown prosecutor.

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion on February 11 launched an investigation into the matter. Conservative and NDP opposition members want the majority Liberal members of the House of Commons' justice committee to launch hearings into the matter. That committee meets February 13.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom