Wilson-Raybould slams feds for 'incremental' progress on Indigenous rights recognition
Published Wednesday, April 24, 2019 4:54PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 24, 2019 8:29PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is slamming the federal government she was once a part of for making only “incremental” progress on the Indigenous justice file and their promise to “decolonialize” Canadian laws and policies.
“My fear and disappointment is that despite sounding the alarm, providing the advice, pushing and challenging, sharing perspectives of lived Indigenous experience… the federal government has fallen back once again into a pattern of trying to ‘manage the problem’ with Indigenous peoples and make incremental shifts rather than transforming the status quo,” Wilson-Raybould said during a keynote address on Wednesday at the First Nations Provincial Justice Forum in Vancouver. They were invited by the B.C.-based First Nations Justice Council.
She appeared alongside fellow newly-Independent MP Jane Philpott to deliver a joint address called: “From denial to recognition: the challenges of Indigenous justice in Canada.”
The gathering of First Nations leaders from across British Columbia is focused on developing a strategy with the provincial government aimed at reforming the relationship between First Nations people and the criminal justice system, including the overrepresentation of incarcerated Indigenous people, systemic racism, and access to justice issues.
“Since I spoke to the leadership of British Columbia this past November, there have been a few developments, things have changed a bit,” Wilson-Raybould said early in her remarks, to laughter. “Perhaps not fully unexpected but certainly an eventful time,” she continued, appearing to reference the months-long controversy surrounding her allegations that she faced a sustained effort from senior government officials to attempt to pressure her to interfere in a criminal case against the Quebec engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould framed her comments as her reflections and insights from her nearly three years as Canada’s first-ever Indigenous justice minister and attorney general, presented with the aim of informing these Indigenous leaders’ ongoing efforts to change the current justice system.
She said that she had “no illusion” about the reality of the system she was taking the helm of, but said that over the course of her time in cabinet she fought to challenge the way things had been done.
Wilson-Raybould said that there is still a lot of work to be done and that as it stands that work is “not fast enough, nor as well co-ordinated as it should be.”
She said that over a year ago, following Trudeau’s “historic” February 2018 speech in the House of Commons on the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, she expected that Crown recognition of Indigenous rights would be coming “imminently.”
“As you all know this has not occurred and I fear we may have temporarily fallen back into a less audacious, less meaningful conversation and mode of work. While perhaps more comfortable, it will not achieve the transformative space that is required,” said Wilson-Raybould. “While steps forward are being taken, they are not happening as coherently, systematically, and quickly as is needed to set us on a proper and necessary path based on rights recognition.”
In her lengthy statement following her shuffling out of the justice portfolio, during her House Justice Committee testimony and in subsequent statements Wilson-Raybould consistently stood by work on this file.
“The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected. Indeed, one of the main reasons for the urgent need for justice and reconciliation today is that in the history of our country we have not always upheld foundational values such as the rule of law in our relations with Indigenous peoples. And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality, and a just society this can have firsthand,” she said during her Feb. 27 testimony.
Philpott, who followed Wilson-Raybould had been Indigenous services minister until she was shuffled during the same cabinet shakeup into Treasury Board.
She later resigned from that post, saying she couldn’t serve any longer as a Liberal minster given she had lost confidence in how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was handling the scandal. The Indigenous services portfolio was a Trudeau creation, splitting the Indigenous file in two, to separate the government’s focus on Indigenous-Crown relations, which is the cabinet post currently held by Carolyn Bennett. Seamus O’Regan is the current Minister of Indigenous Services.
During her portion of the keynote, Philpott echoed Wilson-Raybould’s comments that much more work needs to happen before the government can say it has established a true nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people in Canada.
“We have a long way to go to convince all Canadians of the urgent need for reconciliation. There has been progress in the past four years but not nearly enough,” Philpott said.
She also spoke about the “political shockwaves” that hit Ottawa amid the SNC-Lavalin affair, including a “serious clash of cultures.” She said one of the lessons she’s taking away from it all is that “Ottawa is not entirely ready for people who approach leadership and responsibility from different world views.”
It was first time the pair have appeared together and spoken publicly since their joint scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons the day after their ouster from the Liberal caucus, two months into the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
As the two MPs were being introduced they were lauded for their principles and courage for speaking out in the name of the rule of law over the course of the affair, by B.C. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who delivered his message via video. He described their actions over the course of the scandal as an “incredible stand… against the absolute injustices that were perpetrated against these very strong, principled women in regards to the shenanigans that were going on in Ottawa.”
Both have been approached by the Green and New Democrat parties about potentially running again in 2019 under their banners, but neither have declared whether they will seek reelection into the House of Commons after both were elected for the first time in 2015.
“I do not believe that my time in politics is done,” Wilson-Raybould told reporters after her speech.