Canada’s senior public servant yesterday claimed to be a victim of cyberbullying. Michael Wernick, $326,000-a year clerk of the Privy Council, waved a half-inch pile of what he depicted as hurtful social media comments in an appearance at the Commons justice committee.
“I would like to present these to the committee,” said Wernick: “I believe you will want to discuss this as the intimidation of a witness before your committee and a breach of the committee’s privileges. You can take that up in camera if you wish. I will be distributing these to the media.”
Wernick and his office declined to release the Tweets and Facebook posts despite multiple requests from Blacklock’s. However, numerous social media commentators using the hashtag #MichaelWernick yesterday wrote fresh posts describing the Clerk as a “liar”, “joke”, “pinhead”, “wimp”, “traitor to the nation”, “condescending bastard” and other insults. “He’s the reason why bureaucrats have a bad name,” read one Tweet.
“I am never accepting that we would normalize the cyberbullying of political officials,” said Wernick. “I have been exposed to it. It upsets me and it angers me.” Replied New Democrat MP Murray Rankin (Victoria): “What that has to do with this matter is a little unclear.”
Wernick appeared for more questioning on allegations he hectored then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to quash a 2018 criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. Wernick denied misconduct but could not recall details of key meetings with Wilson-Raybould or others.
“I do not have an independent recollection,” said Wernick, who cited a poor memory 10 times under questioning: “I do not remember”; “That is not my recollection,” he repeated.
“I state categorically that I have never given advice or done anything for partisan purposes which would suggest to advantage one political party versus another,” said Wernick. Replied Green Party MP Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.): “I would never suggest for a moment that you were a strong lifetime Liberal or a strong lifetime Conservative. I think your evidence is consistent with being willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”
Wilson-Raybould in earlier testimony recounted a December 19, 2018 phone call with Wernick in which the Clerk pressed for an out-of-court settlement for SNC-Lavalin, and warned the Prime Minister “is going to find a way to get it done one way or another”: “I warned the Clerk in this call that we were treading on dangerous ground here.” New Democrat MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) yesterday questioned Wernick on his recollection of the phone call:
- MP Angus: “How come you haven’t even tried to rebut her testimony?”
- Wernick: “…I did not record the conversation. I did not wear a wire. I did not take contemporaneous notes. That is not my recollection of the way the conversation flowed.”
- MP Angus: “You’re asked about threatening the Attorney General, you’re asked about treading on dangerous ground, and you tell our committee, ‘I wasn’t wearing a wire’? ‘Sorry, I don’t remember’?…If you cannot answer that question, you have no business in that job.”
- Wernick: “…I did not threaten the Attorney General in any way.”
- MP Angus: “But you don’t remember. You weren’t wearing a wire.”
Wernick continued there was no evidence he obstructed justice, a criminal act. “I note many members of this committee have said they believe every word of the former Attorney General’s testimony,” said Wernick. “Part of what she testified is she does not believe that any behaviour crossed the threshold of criminal behaviour.”
“That’s the bar? It’s not criminal?” replied MP Angus.
Wernick in February 21 testimony at the same committee similarly said he could not recall details of meetings on SNC-Lavalin, stating “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” five times under questioning.