On Feb. 12, the day after her last meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet, signing “Puglaas” — her Kwak’wala name — and retained no less than the Honourable Thomas Cromwell, a former Supreme Court justice, to advise her on what she may speak about.
The 2015 election of the Trudeau Liberals was accompanied by much fanfare and rhetoric about the new political era, one marked by positive and inclusive approaches (“sunny ways”), respect for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, open government, a retreat from the concentration of Prime Ministerial power in the PMO, and the deployment of feminist principles.
The newly elected Vancouver-Granville MP and then the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, Wilson-Raybould was paraded like a prize trophy as evidence of all of these things.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the trophy has become a target. Her alleged resistance to pressure from the PMO in the prosecution playbook for SNC Lavalin by inference resulted in her very public discipline by the Prime Minister in the form of her demotion to Veterans’ Affairs in an otherwise mundane mini-cabinet shuffle. In a statement at that time on her MP web page, she wrote:
“The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence. It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence. As such, 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.”
Meanwhile, certain Liberal pundits who evidently didn’t get the sunny-feminist-ways memo have been indulging in character assassination, running a whisper campaign that Wilson-Raybould is not a team player, is difficult — one even said on the CBC that she is reputed to be incompetent. This feels very familiar to many women across the country, now rolling their eyes, recognizing this for the stereotypical cheap shots against women who beg to differ.
Ah, the politics of symbolism. Perhaps Trudeau et al. forgot that the MP for Vancouver- Granville is a powerful political and professional actor in her own right. She has a heritage of illustrious politicians in the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. She has served as Crown Prosecutor in British Columbia, as a Treaty Commissioner, and as Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, places where competence and political acumen are valued. Her public contributions are likely far from over. She is not someone to be messed with and she’s nobody’s trophy.
The inferred antics in the PMO — the parameters of which many are interested in knowing — have cost the federal government its first Indigenous woman Justice Minister, and may cost Vancouver-Granville its MP. It seems unlikely she would choose to run again — or that the current leader of the federal Liberals would sign her nomination papers.
In the ashes of all of this we may find some smoking residue suggesting causes of this particular political firestorm, helping us to comprehend exactly how politics and power are currently deployed, for whom, and at whose cost. And in this matter, we’ve all lost.
The merits of participating in mainstream electoral politics are complicated for Indigenous people. Wilson-Raybould’s choice to participate in partisan politics wasn’t universally supported in Indian Country, which has little trust in and fewer reasons to support mainstream political parties and governments. Nor was her every stance supported by all Indigenous people. Her positioning in Justin Trudeau’s government was as much liability as asset in Indian Country. For we signatories, this is both a sad and proud moment. We are troubled by the rolling train of toxic federal politics and by the treatment of one of our own, an accomplished Indigenous woman who chose to contribute to mainstream politics.
We are proud of her record, her integrity, her principles, and we wish her well.
Joyce Green (University of Regina)
Gina Starblanket (University of Calgary)
Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark (University of Victoria)
Renae Watchman (Mount Royal University)
Sarah Hunt (University of British Columbia)
Lianne Marie Leda Charlie (Yukon College)
Christine O’Bonsawin (University of Victoria)
waaseyaa'sin Christine Sy (University of Victoria)
Jeff Corntassel (University of Victoria)
Patricia M. Barkaskas (University of British Columbia)
Dallas Hunt (University of Manitoba)
Mary-Jane McCallum (University of Winnipeg)
Damien Lee (Ryerson University)
Chelsea Gabel (McMaster University)
Tasha Hubbard (University of Alberta)
Sarah Nickel (University of Saskatchewan)
Robyn Bourgeois (Brock University)
Diedre Desmarais (University of Manitoba)
Veldon Coburn (Carleton University)
Shalene Jobin (University of Alberta)
Note: Nine more signatures were added to this statement on Feb. 15, 2019 at 3:40 p.m.