Former Trudeau staffer testifies on SNC-Lavalin scandal

'Did the RCMP ask any questions about SNC-Lavalin and Justin Trudeau?' asked Conservative MP Michael Barrett. 'That was five years ago. I don't remember the flow of the interview,” replied Michael Wernick, a former Privy Council clerk.

Former Trudeau staffer testifies on SNC-Lavalin scandal
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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A former staffer to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified before a parliamentary committee Tuesday to divulge details on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

“Has the RCMP contacted you regarding Justin Trudeau’s role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal?” asked Conservative MP Michael Barrett. “They have not,” replied Wernick.

“But you were interviewed for the Ethics commissioner’s report — the Trudeau 2.0 report — on the SNC-Lavalin scandal?” asked Barrett. “Yes,” replied Michael Wernick.

“Easter weekend one time I was interviewed by the commissioner in preparation of the report,” continued the former Privy Council clerk. Wernick retired from public service in April 2019. 

He immediately clarified the RCMP interviewed him on federal lobbying activities following the scandal that summer.

In February 2019, allegations of political interference emerged against the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for urging then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould not to investigate suspected fraud and corruption by Québec firm SNC-Lavalin.

The Montreal construction firm appeared to benefit from a deferred prosecution agreement to avoid criminal prosecution in 2019, as the RCMP only looked into alleged obstruction of justice by the PMO — not allegations of criminal intent.

At the time, Wilson-Raybould had been shuffled from the justice portfolio to Veteran Affairs.

Four days later, then-ethics commissioner Mario Dion announced he would investigate the allegations. Wilson-Raybould resigned from Trudeau's cabinet later that day. 

“Did you have further contact with the RCMP regarding SNC-Lavalin?” asked Barrett. “Never prior and never after,” replied Wernick.

“Did the RCMP ask any questions about SNC-Lavalin and Justin Trudeau?” asked Barrett. “That was five years ago,” replied Wernick. “I don't remember the flow of the interview.”

“We went over the material, which you will see in the commissioner’s report,” he continued.

“You don't remember if Justin Trudeau’s name was brought up by the RCMP?” pressed Barrett. “Yes, the role of the prime mtinister came up, as I was in contact with him during the period I was clerk,” replied Wernick.

RCMP top brass told the Commons ethics committee earlier this month there was no political pressure in their decision to not pursue criminal charges against Trudeau for the SNC-Lavalin affair.

“I’ll let individuals draw their own conclusion,” said RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme.

According to testimony from top government officials, a Commons committee learned on February 2 that the federal police service only interviewed four persons of interest, including Wilson-Raybould.

They did not attempt to get Trudeau’s testimony, reported The National Post, before concluding they had insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

Bewildered Conservative MPs at the ethics committee contemplated why the RCMP did not inquire further.

“In my over 30 years of experience as a defence counsel and a Crown attorney, I have never heard of any investigation where there wasn’t any attempt — whether they agree to interview or not — to interview the person of interest,” said Conservative MP Larry Brock at the time.

According to Democracy Watch, the RCMP reached their conclusions courtesy of public claims by those involved in the scandal. 

The federal police service applied to obtain a search warrant to access confidential cabinet documents relevant to the case, but the Privy Council Office denied their request to access confidential cabinet documents.

Duheme told MPs the RCMP had “limited” access to information but contends they “did everything we could.”

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