The release of the audio recording of the December 19, 2018 phone conversation between former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick is enlightening in many ways.
In the first instance it completely corroborates Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before the Justice Committee and makes Wernick look like nothing more than the lickspittle of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The reaction of many Liberal MP’s has also been instructive.
Instead of being critical of the efforts of the PMO to interfere with the independence of the prosecutorial process, long a tenet of a free democracy, some are questioning the ethics of the former Attorney General.
It’s not the fact that the Prime Minister, the former Principal Secretary to the PM, the Clerk of the Privy Council may have broken the law with their interference, no, it’s the questionable ethics of Wilson-Raybould who had the temerity to record a phone call because she knew the conversation would be inappropriate and it was.
Their moral compass seems more than a little askew.
Some were even so outraged to suggest the former A.G. may have broken the law by not informing Wernick that she was recording the call. You’d almost think that lawmakers should know the existing law wouldn’t you before pontificating on social media or in front of the TV cameras?
Let’s have a look at the existing law.
Section 184 of the Criminal Code deals with the interception of private communications. Specifically it says this:
“Every one who, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, wilfully intercepts a private communication is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.”
Subsection 2 says this doesn’t apply to this exception:
“a person who has the consent to intercept, express or implied, of the originator of the private communication or of the person intended by the originator thereof to receive it.”
It is known in law as one-party consent. In simple terms if one party to the communication consents to the interception or in this case recording, it is exempted under the law. There was absolutely nothing illegal about what Wilson-Raybould did.
Others, such as former Cabinet Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, who emerged from a prolonged voter-inspired hibernation, tried to say she breached legal ethics by recording the conversation with “a client” breaching client privilege.
She is actually trying to suggest the Clerk of the Privy Council, the supposedly apolitical head of the federal civil service, is somehow the client of the nation’s chief legal officer.
There’s a great leap in mental gymnastics and not her first.
Copps was an original member of the so-called Rat Pack of Liberals in Opposition during the Mulroney government who earned the nickname ‘Tequila Sheila’ after a particularly entertaining exchange in the House with then Minister of Justice John Crosbie.
The insult to our intelligence is the spin coming from the PMO and the PCO in trying to say that following the conversation, Wernick did not relay the details to the Prime Minister despite saying the P.M. was firm in his desire to get a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for his friends and donors at SNC-Lavalin.
He said he had spoken to the PM prior to their call and was clear on what the PM wanted.
The PCO released a statement saying that Wernick did not speak to the Prime Minister because “everyone was on holidays.”
(The submission to the Justice Committee by Wilson-Raybould with a transcript of the conversation can be found here.)
Saying the Prime Minister was on holidays and therefore not reachable is more than a bit disingenuous considering the entries for the day of the phone call and the day after the phone call from the website of the PMO says the Prime Minister was in Ottawa both days.
If the matter was as important as described by Wernick, it beggars belief to think that Wernick, faithful civil servant, would not have reported the conversation with Wilson-Raybould back to the PM.
This all came to a head on Tuesday at a hastily convened caucus meeting when both Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Jane Philpott were punted from the Liberal caucus and as such prevented from running under the Liberal banner in the next election in October. Neither were allowed to address caucus in their own defence. For the feminist Prime Minister, women are okay as long as they sit down, shut up and do what they are told.
It seems there’s no room either for ethics and integrity in the Liberal Party of Canada.