Former HoC law clerk 'confused' by demands for 'further waiver'
Published Monday, March 25, 2019 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 25, 2019 10:11PM EDT
A retired House of Commons law clerk says he’s “confused” about why former Liberal ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott seem to be “pressing for an additional waiver” in relation to the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau granted Wilson-Raybould permission to speak at the Justice Committee in February, where she described a “consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred-prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
Wilson-Raybould suggested at the time that there was more she would like to say, but Trudeau’s waiver didn’t include the weeks after she was shuffled out of the attorney general job and remained in cabinet. Liberal members of the House of Commons justice committee later voted down an opposition request for Wilson-Raybould to appear for a second time.
Last week, Philpott, who resigned as a result of Wilson-Raybould’s allegations, told Maclean’s magazine that the PM should “waive privilege on the whole issue and let those who have something to say on it speak their minds and share their stories.”
On Monday, Trudeau called the waiver “unprecedented” and said that it allowed “a full airing ... of everything in regards to the SNC-Lavalin file and the time that is in question -- that is, when the former minister of justice was indeed minister of justice.”
Rob Walsh, the former House of Commons law clerk, told CTV’s Power Play on Monday that he’s “confused” about why Wilson-Raybould would need a further waiver.
“It’s only inappropriate pressure and it’s only offensive to her independence if what is said to her is said to her while she’s attorney general,” he said. “If she’s no longer attorney general, whatever is said to her, however unpleasant it might be, isn’t inappropriate because she is no longer attorney general,” he added.
“So I’d ask,” Walsh went on, “what’s this additional information they want to bring out? Does it relate to SNC-Lavalin or is it part of a larger political agenda they want to carry on with?”
A number of high-profile Liberals have suggested that Philpott and Wilson-Raybould, who remain MPs, could use their “parliamentary privilege” to speak in the House of Commons if they have more to say. Parliamentary privilege is the special protection MPs have to speak freely in Parliament without fear of being sued or prosecuted.
Minister of Tourism Melanie Joly told CTV’s Question Period late last week, “They can clearly speak, they can use their own parliamentary privilege to go before Parliament and speak.”
MP Judy Sgro told CTV News last Friday that “there’s no reason that Jane and Jody cannot go into the House of Commons, parliamentary privilege, talk for as long as they want, say anything they want. They’d be clear of any cabinet issues.”
“We don’t want to damage the party,” Sgro added. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. And this is hanging over our head with this innuendo ... If there’s something to be said, it’s an opportunity to say it ... They’re under no restrictions. They can walk into the House of Commons right now.”
Philpott told Maclean’s she hasn’t done so because of “the very serious oaths that I made when I became a cabinet minister to respect confidentiality.” Cabinet ministers must swear an oath that says their collective decision-making will remain confidential.
But Walsh says that may not apply here.
“Just because the prime minister might meet with a minister over lunch doesn’t make that conversation necessarily a cabinet confidence,” he said. “Although there may be an expectation of confidentiality regarding the conversation, that doesn’t make it a cabinet confidence."