On SNC, Trudeau acknowledging his wrong is necessary to make our constitution right

Anonymous sources strike again. A CBC report again quotes unnamed sources, almost certainly PMO staff, leaking their spin on a confidential meeting between former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

This is the latest in a series of one-sided takes on confidential discussions involving Wilson-Raybould that have been turned into anonymous smears — one of which even Trudeau had to admit was racist and sexist in tone. Other anonymous attempts to smear broke confidence on discussions about the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. That drive-by attack required an applicant for that position to reveal the health status of his wife.

The selective morality of Liberals MPs who remain silent about smears, breaking confidences, pressuring the Attorney General, interfering with prosecutions — and the litany of other unethical and improper acts to assist SNC-Lavalin, a company with a history of corruption in Canada and around the world — is disturbing.

Like diversity, it seems ethics only works when it benefits Justin Trudeau. That’s such disappointing behavior. Especially from the lawyers in the Liberal caucus.

It’s unclear how much of the story was even true. The reporter later rewrote it after another journalist interviewed Wilson-Raybould — something one might have thought wise to do in the first instance — in which the former AG said she “would never” interfere in the prosecution.

Some straw-graspers has have tried to argue there’s some meaningful difference between “never would” interfere and “didn’t” interfere — as if there’s some place in the time continuum not included by never. It’s an embarrassingly bad argument.

But even if there is a small shred of truth to the original story, notice that what Wilson-Raybould wanted weren’t political demands – she asked for nothing for herself. She didn’t ask for a promotion or more money or even a return to the AG position.

She asked Trudeau to protect our constitutional rights. She again showed him the way  out of the crisis he created when he refused to take her sound legal advice from the start.

Canadians value, deserve and expect a legal system free of political interference. It’s a constitutional convention of our country stretching back decades and decades.

And a request that the Prime Minister acknowledge the mistake of pressuring the AG  and attempting prosecutorial interference is needed in order to salvage our rights.

The evidence is that Wilson-Raybould repeatedly warned Trudeau and others to not break the constitutional convention of non-interference in prosecutions. She said it to Trudeau in their September 17 meeting. She says she told his staff. And we’ve seen the very clear letter she wrote to Trudeau on December 14.

Yet the PM wouldn’t take the legal advice from her, his own top legal advisor. He didn’t respect her profession opinion or the opinion of her department — and was hellbent to stop the trial of SNC-Lavalin on corruption and bribery charges. Why? It’s a real mystery.

Wilson-Raybould was the last line of resistance to SNC getting what it wants — their  corruption trial cancelled. And Wilson-Raybould was the last line of defense in the protection of the constitutional convention of non-interference in prosecutions.

From some quarters comes the nonsense that “the law allows for” interference in the prosecution, a claim only true in the most narrow way, by focusing only on the Director of Public Prosecutions Act  while conveniently disregarding Canada’s constitution.

The convention of non-interference is operative and not replaced by the ability, under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, to override the director of prosecution’s decision.

Wilson-Raybould wouldn’t submit to pressure and override the prosecution for reasons she testified were “unlawful” – the jobs argument, a factor the law says must not be considered in determining whether a deferred prosecution agreement is appropriate. And Trudeau removed her, removing the barrier to his desired interference.

Gerald Butts told us a story about Wilson-Raybould’s removal as AG. He testified it was required to fill the gap they’d made at Indigenous Services. But in her testimony, Wilson-Raybould not only said that long ago she made it clear she could never be Indigenous Services minister, but also that Butts demonstrated his understanding of this. If we accept Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Butts’ story is a concoction and the PM’s offer in bad faith.

Significantly, in the additional materials Butts submitted since Wilson-Raybould’s recording and brief became public, he made no attempt to refute her assertion. Her testimony stands. Butts’ story does not.

There is, therefore, no adequate explanation of why Wilson-Raybould was removed as AG. We are left with the compelling logic that she was taken off the field to let SNC get in the end-zone — taking over the prosecution and stopping their corruption trial.

As awful a story as this is, it is worse. Trudeau’s acts have not just infringed on the constitutional convention that trials be free from political interference. It’s a precedent for more of the same by Trudeau — and all who succeed him.

The rules about not pressuring the AG and not interfering in a prosecution is a constitutional convention. A constitutional convention evolves with practice. If a practice is not condemned as error, convention bends toward an acceptance of that practice. It becomes precedent. In this case, political pressure on the AG to interfere in the prosecution becomes normalized.

That is just unacceptable.

If the PM doesn’t acknowledge the error made, the error would be the latest evolution of the practice, bending the convention in favour of pressure and interference. If the PM acknowledges the error made the convention is whole again. Future infringements would be clearly outside the convention.

This crisis started as a legal mistake by Trudeau himself. His refusal to fix it has turned it into a legal and political crisis. Instead of respecting the legal advice of his top legal advisor, it’s been anonymous leaks and smears to discredit Wilson-Raybould.

There are reasons many of us just can’t get over this scandal and move on to other things. What’s been done must be undone. And that requires either a Prime Minister or a House of Commons that acknowledges the error and restores the convention.

Without that, corporations and the rich will be able to lobby their way to prosecutorial interference. And the convention will say that it’s okay.

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