Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2019 (374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last month, after being shuffled out as federal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould released a statement: "It has always been my view that the attorney general of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role."
It was an odd statement, made more weird by the fact she didn’t even thank nor mention Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Since the Liberals took power in 2015, Wilson-Raybould had become the face of the federal government, second only to Trudeau.
The two had been photographed together hundreds of times. When Trudeau made a speech on Indigenous rights in the House of Commons on Feb. 14, 2018, the shot of Wilson-Raybould embracing Trudeau, staring into his eyes with her hands on his face, became the perfect image for the prime minister's promise: to change Canada’s dysfunctional and violent relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Appointing an Indigenous woman as justice minister/attorney general, Trudeau could vow Canada’s "most important" relationship was with Indigenous peoples.
Wilson-Raybould was the perfect fit for a government launching an inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. She could also speak to First Nations on Trudeau's behalf — a minister of Indigenous affairs, without the title.
Wilson-Raybould accepted this role willingly and staked her reputation on it. She helped craft federal policies for Indigenous peoples and spoke on behalf of the government on Indigenous issues at Assembly of First Nations meetings. She encouraged chiefs to believe in and accept federal government policies, even announcing in July 2016 implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law was "unworkable."
She said the right things, appeared at the right events, and defended Trudeau and the government.
Until she was shuffled to veterans affairs in January.
On Monday, Trudeau faced questions at a Vancouver news conference after a Globe and Mail report alleged he had tried to influence Wilson-Raybould, as justice minister, to abandon prosecution of Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
SNC-Lavalin is facing potential fraud and corruption charges due to its business dealings in Libya. If found guilty, it would likely bankrupt the company.
Allegedly, Wilson-Raybould was asked by the Prime Minister's Office to lobby justice officials to negotiate a lesser penalty.
We don’t know if that’s true, as Wilson-Raybould has continued her silence, saying she is "bound by solicitor-client privilege in this matter."
Her absence at the Vancouver event, however, said something was off; Wilson-Raybould is the MP for Vancouver Granville. "Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself," the Prime Minister said.
That was more an invitation to Wilson-Raybould to speak. And she did, in resigning from cabinet Tuesday.
In her resignation letter, Wilson Raybould gave no reason for her departure, thanking Canadians and her constituents — but again not Trudeau: "When I sought federal elected office, it was with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians and a different way of doing politics."
If this isn’t "speaking truth" to Trudeau’s power, what followed is.
"I am aware that many Canadians wish for me to speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week... I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter." She then provided the name of her attorney.
No one announces "speak to my lawyer" in a resignation letter unless they’re unhappy.
She signed the letter with her Kwak’wala name, Puglaas, which means "a woman born to noble people."
This is where truth meets power.
Wilson-Raybould’s resignation comes in a brutal period of conflict between Trudeau’s government and Indigenous peoples. After riding a wave of Indigenous support in the 2015 election (where at least 22 federal ridings were directly influenced by Indigenous voters), recent arrests of Indigenous pipeline protesters in B.C., widespread disappointment with long-promised Indigenous rights and languages legislation, and ongoing failures with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have severely damaged Trudeau’s reputation.
This is not to say the federal government hasn’t had achievements — Trudeau recently announced 72 boil-water advisories in First Nations communities had ended — it’s just impossible to hear the conflict.
The Indigenous file had been Trudeau’s greatest potential for a legacy. Now, it seems to be his biggest problem going into this fall’s federal election.
Now, Trudeau is alone. His perfect vision for reconciliation was fantastic, as long as Wilson-Raybould behaved and said the right things.
When she spoke truth, he got rid of her — a story all too familiar in the way Canada treats Indigenous peoples.
The price may be Trudeau’s power.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.