FACT CHECK: Was it “Treasonous” for Jody Wilson-Raybould to Record Michael Wernick?
FALSE. The Canadian Criminal Code defines treason as either an attempt to overthrow the government by force or the leaking of sensitive information to a foreign state.
As reported by Global News, the seed of the SNC-Lavalin scandal began in 2015 when the RCMP charged Canada’s largest construction firm with corruption and fraud in connection with payments made to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2010. While awaiting trial, SNC-Lavalin lobbied the Liberal government to introduce an amendment to the Criminal Code that would offer remediation agreements, a system of fines and reparations negotiated between prosecutor and accused. In practice, this would let corporations avoid criminal prosecution, sparing presumably innocent employees from suffering for the misdeeds of a small number of executives.
Last June, remediation agreements were written into the Criminal Code as part of a 500-page omnibus bill. But, in September, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) declined to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
Because the PPSC answers to the attorney general, the only person with the power to legally overturn their decision to pursue criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin was then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould. In the weeks following the PPSC’s decision, Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met to discuss the fate of the construction company. According to Trudeau, this conversation ended with him reaffirming to the attorney general that the decision was hers alone. However, according to Wilson-Raybould, she was then contacted by eleven members of the Prime Minister’s Office, the privy council office, and finance minister Bill Morneau’s office in what she later described as a “consistent and sustained effort” by the Trudeau government to interfere with prosecutorial independence.
In December, then privy council clerk Michael Wernick phoned Wilson-Raybould at her home in Vancouver to talk about a remediation agreement for SNC-Lavalin. You can read a full transcript of this phone call here, because Wilson-Raybould recorded it and submitted it to the House of Commons justice committee, which had opened an investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair. Wilson-Raybould called her own actions “extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate” but has also said that, after being “hounded” for four months by government officials she says were eager to “politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” she had reason to believe Wernick would try to further pressure her.
That Wilson-Raybould made and released this recording without Wernick’s knowledge—though not illegal—became a flashpoint for her party’s frustration over the scandal and the public approval it had cost them. Following the recording’s release, several Liberal MPs publicly denounced Wilson-Raybould. But by far the most damning indictment came from Montreal Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès, who alleged that Wilson-Raybould’s surreptitious recording was not only “unethical,” it was “treasonous, really.”
According to Section 46 of the Canadian Criminal Code, treason is a betrayal of one’s own country that undermines national security, either by attempting to overthrow a federal or provincial government using force or by providing sensitive military or scientific information to a foreign state. Based on the Criminal Code definition, Wilson-Raybould’s recording in no way constitutes an act of treason. If the former attorney general’s actions can be considered a betrayal at all, then they were a betrayal of the Liberal Party in the name of prosecutorial independence.
Other Liberal MPs also made false or misleading accusations about Wilson-Raybould after the recording was made public. Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter alleged that the recording constituted “entrapment,” which it didn’t—entrapment can, by definition, only be carried out by a police officer. And Toronto MP Adam Vaughan, a former journalist, alleged that Wilson-Raybould’s actions are an example of why journalists have rules against recording a conversation with only one party’s consent. This, as a blanket statement, is misleading—newsroom policy differs between organizations, and while outlets such as the CBC require reporters to alert sources that they are recording, many others don’t.
As reported by the CBC, the secret recording emboldened Trudeau to remove Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus entirely (he had already removed her from the role of attorney general in January).