The former principal secretary to the prime minister insists there was no intention to pressure the attorney general on the issue of whether to pursue criminal charges against engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. Gerald Butts was called to testify before the justice committee of the House of Common with regards to a political storm over charges of political interference made by former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould. Butts told the committee “I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government.”
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet saying she had been persistently and inappropriately pressured to not pursue criminal charges related to alleged bribery in Libya and to instead consider negotiating a remediation agreement. If SNC-Lavalin is tried and convicted of fraud and corruption it would be barred from bidding on federal government contracts for 10 years. This could affect the jobs of 9,000 employees.
Butts told the committee that the prime minister gave clear directions to top officials “to make sure the thousands of people whose jobs…are at risk were at the forefront of our minds at all times.” They were told to work with the public service to make sure that option of negotiating a remediation agreement would be given every consideration. Butts added top officials “must keep in mind at all times” that the decision to direct the prosecution “rests with the attorney general and the attorney general alone.”
Gerry Butts said the top priority was saving jobs at SNC-Lavalin.Listen
Butts said that the discussions with Wilson-Raybould were based on advice that because the law on remediation agreements was only passed in June 2018, it would be appropriate for her to get advice about it from a prominent jurist or a panel of jurists about it’s implementation.
Wilson-Raybould had testified that she was “hounded” even though she had already made her decision to allow the criminal charges to go ahead and not seek a negotiated settlement. Butts said she never complained about this in writing.
Shortly after, there was a cabinet shuffle and Wilson-Raybould was removed from the position of attorney-general and minister of justice. Butts vehemently denied this had anything to do with the SNC-Lavalin file. He added that she never would have been removed had another cabinet minister not resigned necessitating a cabinet shuffle. He also suggested that he believes the SNC-Lavalin issue would not have been raised had there not been a shuffle.
While careful to express his respect for Jody Wilson-Raybould, Butts did make reference to allegations of things has is said to have done “that I didn’t do.” He also testified to the professionalism, hard work, and good will of the officials Wilson-Raybould has accused of pressuring her in an improper manner.
Butts’ testimony will be followed by an appearance by the clerk of the privy council.
It remains to be seen whether their testimony will change what has become a political firestorm over the issue of whether the government improperly interfered with judicial proceedings or not.