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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

On justice, and integrity

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Apr 12, 2019

Two months ago, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the embattled former Liberal Justice Minister, found herself at the heart of a national scandal by accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and 12 other government officials of pressuring and threatening her to help the Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal bribery charges. Since then, she has testified in front of a House of Commons committee and has now been kicked out of the Liberal caucus after she released a recording of a telephone conversation with Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council – a recording made without his knowledge.

While I absolutely love seeing an Indigenous woman be the cause of Trudeau’s grief, I have complex feelings toward Wilson-Raybould and this whole situation.

In her testimony to the committee, Wilson-Raybould invoked the Big House as a motivation to speak the truth. The Big House she’s referring to is a structure that used to shelter several families of a clan, but she’s also referring to a much larger concept. The Big House, just like our miichuwaapeh, is where legends are told, where core values are taught and where traditions are kept. However, I feel like her actions throughout her mandate do not reflect what she’s been taught back home. Silence is a powerful political statement, especially when you are at the head of the most powerful ministry in the country.

In a text message about her removal as justice minister sent to Gerald Butts, she wrote: “The situation is only going to deepen” – meaning that Indigenous leaders would not welcome the move.

There is one thing I want to know: did she say the same thing when her Indigenous sisters and brothers were being forcibly removed from the Unist’ot’en protest camp in northern British Columbia? I have a hard time understanding how the prime minister’s decision to shove pipelines down everyone’s throat was not bad enough for her to resign because it goes against her values of “truth and integrity” and her desire to “address climate change and Indigenous reconciliation.”  

Wilson-Raybould also tried to sabotage Bill C-262 – MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill to adopt UNDRIP – in front of the Assembly of First Nations. She wanted the bill withdrawn because they had something better coming up. After three years of consultation, the framework that was supposedly better was massively rejected by the AFN.

The fact that Wilson-Raybould is an Indigenous woman doesn’t shield her from criticism. I’m glad she initiated the turmoil, did what was right and reminded everyone of the Liberals’ long history of corporate corruption. However, when you invoke sacred principles that protected your people since time immemorial, you have to be consistent and coherent, and I absolutely dislike when people mention such things out of self-interest. Aside from corruption, the Liberals also have a long history of abuse toward Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, Wilson-Raybould participated in this legacy.

As the Attorney General of Canada, she made decisions to go to court against Indigenous people, as in the St. Anne’s residential school survivors’ court case. She also refused to comply with an order by the Canadian Humans Rights Tribunal to stop racially discriminating against Indigenous children by underfunding family services in First Nations communities. Like the Conservatives before them, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau and Judy Wilson-Raybould spent millions on lawyers fighting them.

I do understand that Wilson-Raybould was in a place where Indigenous folks are expected to fit the mold. I also feel that her community has the last word when it comes to judging her actions. She missed an opportunity to own up to her Indigenous identity at the right time, but doing so in the SNC-Lavalin scandal was a very clever way to distance herself from the fact that she allowed so much violence towards her peers for more than three years. I was rooting for her, but I was disappointed. After all, the rule of law also means respecting the Constitution, especially Section 35.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.