Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a “key player” in the SNC-Lavalin affair will testify before the Justice Committee on Wednesday. Committee member and Conservative MP Michael Cooper said Butts “needs to answer truthfully and needs to suffer consequences of perjury if he fails to do so.”
“In terms of how he acted, the things that the former attorney general testified he said to her, raise serious questions about his respect for the rule of law,” Cooper told The Post Millennial. “Based on the testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould, it’s clear that Butts, Ms. (Katie) Telford and frankly the Clerk of the Privy Council knew what they were doing was wrong, but they didn’t care because they felt they were above the law.”
Cooper said while “Butts appears to be the key player in this scandal”, attempts to have any witnesses to the matter testify under oath were blocked by the committee’s Liberal majority. “They’ve shot down all attempts to have witnesses sworn in,” said Cooper. “It’s not the usual course but this is not a usual committee hearing. We’re really in unchartered territory.”
Architect of Trudeau’s political success and his top advisor, Butts, resigned on February 21st amidst allegations that the PMO repeatedly attempted to pressure former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to defer bribery charges against SNC-Lavalin. The company is awaiting trial for charges it bribed officials in Libya with $48 million between 2001 and 2011 to win contracts there.
After Wilson-Raybould testified to the Justice committee last week of a “barrage of people hounding me and my staff” to defer the Québec construction firm’s criminal trial to remediation, in which she placed Butts at the centre of this alleged political interference, he offered to tell his side of the story.
“I believe my evidence will be of assistance to the (committee’s) consideration of these matters,” writes Butts in a letter to the Justice committee a day after Wilson-Raybould’s appearance, requesting the opportunity to speak and suggesting “relevant documents” could be presented.
Wilson-Raybould’s opening statement during last Wednesday’s Justice committee hearings implicates Butts in a coordinated effort to override a criminal trial on SNC-Lavalin, that also involved Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Canada’s top public servant Michael Wernick, Butts’ senior PMO colleague Katie Telford and Trudeau himself. Wilson-Raybould testified that she repeatedly rebuffed efforts by them to change her mind and review the public prosecutor’s decision.
According to Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet on February 12th over the growing scandal, deferring SNC’s prosecution was not just of economic importance for Trudeau and his cadre, but partisan as well with respect to last October’s provincial election, and this year’s federal election.
“To my surprise, the clerk started to make the case for the need to have a deferred prosecution agreement; ‘they will likely be moving to London if this happens’,: Wernick is alleged to have said at a meeting with Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau in September 2018. “And there is an election in Québec.”
The former attorney general also testified that at the same meeting Trudeau reminded her, “I am an MP in Québec – the member for Papineau.”
Following this meeting, SNC’s legal fate in the context of the 2019 federal election was broached by senior PMO staffer Mathieu Bouchard who is alleged to have told Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff: “we can have the best policy in the world, but we need to be re-elected.”
Deferred prosecution agreements, or DPAs are a recent criminal code amendment slipped into last year’s 2018 budget bill. The legislative change follows years of intense lobbying by SNC-Lavalin – 19 times with the PMO to discuss law enforcement and justice matters – that began a year after criminal charges were laid against the company in February 2015 and shortly after the Trudeau and the Liberals won the federal election in October.
A DPA would allow for diversion of criminal prosecutions against corporations, from trials to fines and integrity undertakings as ordered by the prosecutor. If convicted, SNC-Lavalin would be banned for 10-years from bidding on federal contracts and without a DPA referral from the attorney general, the director of public prosecutions is bound to proceed with the facts of a case, not economic considerations.
“(Butts) talked to me about how the statute was set up by Harper that he does not like the law (Director of Public Prosecutions Act) – I said something like that is the law we have,” Raybould testified of her December 5, 2018 meeting with Butts to inform him that she was unmoved and would not interfere in SNC-Lavalin’s prosecution.
Shortly after this meeting, Butts would inform Wilson-Raybould via her chief of staff that “there is no solution here that doesn’t involve some interference’ … Katie (Telford) was like ‘we don’t want to debate legalities anymore.’”
On February 21, 2019 – three days after Butts’ resignation – Wernick testified before the Justice committee that no undue pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould and economic considerations in weighing deferred prosecution agreements are a legitimate course of cabinet business. But Wilson-Raybould viewed their interactions markedly different.
“I warned the Clerk that we were treading on dangerious ground here – and I issued a strong warning,” she told the Justice committee of her last conversation with him before being shuffled into Veterans Affairs. “I cannot act in a partisan way and I cannot be politically motivated. And all of this screams of that.”
The hearing begins at 10 a.m. and can be viewed live: www.parlvu.parl.gc.ca