Jody Wilson-Raybould is at the centre of an Ottawa drama. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Cathy Majtenyi: Wilson-Raybould sets the right example

  • April 15, 2019

It was the bombshell conversation that sealed the fate of a string of federal government officials connecting right up to the office of the prime minister.

Last December’s 17-minute phone call in which then-Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick tried to persuade then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to negotiate a settlement with SNC-Lavalin is damning on many levels.

It holds several lessons we can learn and apply to our own lives as we reflect on what happened.

Topping the list is the courage and conviction Wilson-Raybould displayed in resisting political pressure to let the Quebec firm SNC-Lavalin off the hook for its alleged criminal activities with merely a fine.

Wilson-Raybould belongs to the Kwakiutl nation on the West Coast. At the end of her testimony in February to the House of Commons justice committee, Wilson- Raybould said that she “came from a long line of matriarchs, and I’m a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House. This is who I am, and this is who I always will be.”

In abiding by the values of her Indigenous teachings, Wilson- Raybould is a powerful role model of what it means to live out our faith and speak out against wrongdoing, despite disapproval and even veiled threats.

The telephone call gives us a sense of what Wilson-Raybould had to endure for many months.

While it’s not illegal to record a conversation without the consent of the other person, it does raise some ethical concerns, which Wilson-Raybould readily admits and which had a role in her being kicked out of the Liberal caucus on April 2. But that recording served a greater purpose, not only by protecting Wilson-Raybould but by tangibly backing up her charge of political interference by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his inner circle.

The SNC-Lavalin affair started to unravel Feb. 7 following a Globe and Mail report that staffers in the PMO pressured Wilson-Raybould to issue a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in response to charges of fraud and corruption against SNC-Lavalin for allegedly bribing Libyan officials to get government contracts in Libya.

Wilson-Raybould refused to issue the DPA, which means that the Quebec-based engineering and construction company will face trial on criminal charges. If the company had obtained a DPA, it could have avoided court by undertaking one or more measures, such as paying a fine, expanding its reporting requirements or allowing for independent, thirdparty oversight.

A flurry of accusations followed, leading to the March 29 public release of the taped phone call between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick.

There’s a certain deja-vu feel in seeing the pressure faced by Wilson-Raybould. Only last January the federal government backtracked and softened earlier changes to the attestation requirement of the Canada Summer Jobs program. They removed a provision initiated by a 2018 decision which essentially denied groups funding unless they ticked a box swearing that “Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including … reproductive rights.”

Including the attestation put pressure on several employers to choose between expediency and doing the right thing. Thankfully, most Catholic and other faithbased groups walked away from the money rather than be bullied into signing a declaration that stated abortion is a “human right.”

Another lesson is that Wilson- Raybould wasn’t swayed by the argument that up to 9,000 Canadians could lose their jobs if SNC-Lavalin left Canada or lost contracts due to the criminal charges. (Interestingly, SNC-Lavalin CEO and President Neil Bruce denied discussing job losses with the prime minister.)

Using economic arguments to overlook or justify wrong-doing is not new. Through numerous writings — particularly Laudato Si’ — Pope Francis has emulated previous popes and continually stated that a drive for economic growth should never override respect for human rights, the environment, the poor and conditions for workers, among other concerns. In 2011, the year SNCLavalin is alleged to have ceased making bribes that began in 2000 to Libyan officials, Libya was found guilty of human rights abuses and suspended from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Forcing SNC-Lavalin to face criminal charges in court sends a strong message. It states that Canada will not tolerate fraud and corruption and also acknowledges the wrongness of a Canadian company allegedly paying bribes to a regime that so blatantly abused human rights.

Wilson-Raybould is an example of someone living out the values and convictions taught by Christ. We should not be led astray by arguments that elevate the economy over other aspects of life. Our call is to boldly speak and uphold the truth, even under pressure.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research at an Ontario university.)

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