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'I believe that she spoke ... her truth,' Freeland says of Wilson-Raybould testimony

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-02-28 Kathleen Harris
Chrystia Freeland smiling for the camera: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she always considered Jody Wilson-Raybould a 'valued colleague.' © Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she always considered Jody Wilson-Raybould a 'valued colleague.'

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland believes Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke "her truth" during stunning testimony before the Commons justice committee in Ottawa on Wednesday, but Freeland maintains the prime minister would never exert inappropriate pressure on the former attorney general.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday, Freeland was asked who she believes: Wilson-Raybould or Justin Trudeau.

After Wilson-Raybould delivered a blistering, four-hour account of sustained, intense efforts by the Prime Minister's Office and other government officials that she feels were designed to sway her decision on prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, Trudeau refuted her version of events and insisted he and his staff did nothing wrong.

"I believe that she spoke, as she said she wanted to do, her truth," Freeland told host Robyn Bresnahan.

"Having said that, I am clearly of the view that the prime minister would never apply improper pressure, that the prime minister has always been clear about the unique role of the attorney general, and would respect that."

Freeland said she has always considered Wilson-Raybould a valued colleague. She was asked what she thought, as a feminist, about the characterization of Wilson-Raybould as "difficult." 

"I have never found her to be anything other than a thoughtful colleague whose perspective I have valued," she said. "She is a woman of strong views. I like to think that I am too."

Trudeau apologized to Wilson-Raybould on Feb. 20 for what he called "absolutely unacceptable" comments and cartoons about the former justice minister, saying he wasn't quick enough to condemn them in "unequivocal terms."

Disparaging characterization

He didn't specify which comments inspired his apology.

Recently, The Canadian Press ran a story quoting anonymous sources who described Wilson-Raybould as someone who had "become a thorn in the side of the cabinet" before she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs. She was also described as "someone ... [who] was difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow cabinet ministers openly at the table, and who others felt they had trouble trusting."

Several political cartoonists portrayed Wilson-Raybould bound, gagged and beaten — a reference to her refusing to comment on the scandal publicly because of solicitor-client privilege.

Asked if Wilson-Raybould should remain in the Liberal caucus after delivering the damning testimony, Freeland said caucus is a "broad church" with diverse views. Cabinet and caucus can share and debate them behind closed doors, but must emerge united.

"At the end of the day, when you leave the room, you have to play as a united team," she said. "I feel very strongly about that because I think being united when we left the room has been extremely important for us on issues like NAFTA."

Freeland was also asked if the controversy might affect the consideration of Canada as a "rule of law" country and other cases, such as the extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

"In the Meng case, our government has been scrupulous," she said. "Decisions that are correctly taken at the official, ie. non-political level have been scrupulously taken at the official, non-political level, and there has been no interference, political element to the decision."

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