RECAP: Gerald Butts testifies at justice committee on SNC-Lavalin affair

Ashley Moliere / March 6th, 2018

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, gave his side of the story to the justice committee Wednesday morning in regards to the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Butts stood by Trudeau and contradicted former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s earlier testimony by casting a different light on the events that allegedly took place.

Here are some of the key moments from his testimony Wednesday

“When you boil it all down, all we ever asked the Attorney General to do, was to consider a second opinion.”

Butts said the Prime Minister’s Office just wanted to have someone like former Supreme Court justice Beverly McLachlin provide a second opinion, and he did not see how his brief conversations constituted undue pressure. According to Butts, the main concern of officials was the fact that almost 10,000 jobs could be at risk if SNC-Lavalin faced a criminal conviction. Butts referred to this as a public-policy issue.

“I am fully aware that two people can experience the same events differently…I only quote these messages so you can appreciate why I was so surprised to hear months later that the Minister experienced that dinner as pressure.”

Butts claimed he was only made aware of how Wilson-Raybould felt about the situation when she testified last week in front of the justice committee. Butts said Wilson-Raybould didn’t “lie,” rather she perceived the events differently. He also added he just learned that she made up her mind in September about not providing SNC-Lavalin a deal through her testimony.

The former Attorney General explained to Gerald Butts in a meeting in early December that this agreement “had never been done before,” Butts replied saying “my understanding is that remediation agreements are new to Canada.”

Butts denied that the Prime Minister’s Office pressured Wilson-Raybould to order the federal prosecution service to provide SNC-Lavalin a remediation agreement. He said if there was pressure applied to Wilson-Raybould, he would have known about it. He also said he has no opinion on what decision the former or current Attorney General should take in regards to SNC-Lavalin. Butts said because agreements of this kind are new to Canada, officials had to make sure they covered all their bases and could provide the public with appropriate justification for their decision.

Other important points made by Butts:

  • In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould referred to a meeting with Butts and her chief of staff  in December where they discussed the idea of political interference. During his testimony, Butts said that if getting a second opinion constituted interference then it seemed like the conversation was pointless.
  • Butts claimed the decision to move Wilson-Raybould out of the role of Attorney General was made because she was a strong performer in cabinet and Trudeau needed a strong minister of Indigenous services Butts said it had nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin. Instead, Butts said, Wilson-Raybould ended up as minister of veterans affairs after refusing to move to Indigenous services. Butts said that after the cabinet shuffle, Wilson-Raybould approached him and asked if this had anything to do with SNC-Lavalin and he told her it didn’t. Butts said he was shocked that Wilson-Raybould could the view the shuffle in “such a dark light.”
  • Butts stated he and other officials didn’t feel they were doing anything wrong. He said it was vital for Wilson-Raybould to hear all advice before making her final decision.

Butts said he had documents to back-up his side of the story.
(Ontario Chamber of Commerce / Flickr)