Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered a stunning testimony to the Justice Committee today. Stunning because it was concise and not at all vague as many had expected. Stunning because it was articulate, yet simplistic, and free from passion; it was also damning.
Wilson-Raybould opened her testimony by saying she received “consistent” and “sustained” pressure over a four month period as the Attorney General of Canada to offer a deferred prosecution agreement in the SNC Lavalin case. She said the pressure was applied by 11 people from the Prime Minister’s office including the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigned suddenly two weeks ago.
SNC Lavalin is an international corporation with a rather sordid history of criminal business practices. The company was sanctioned by the World Bank in 2013 and was banned from bidding on projects for ten years, however the World Bank noted in 2015 that SNC Lavalin, under new leadership, appeared to be making progress toward internal change.
In July 2018, a former SNC Lavalin VP was convicted in the MUHC bribery scandal involving a bid on a “super hospital” in Montreal back in 2007. The former CEO plead guilty earlier this month for his role.
Meanwhile, in 2018, the Liberal government passed a proposal for deferred prosecution in their budget omnibus bill, C-86. SNC Lavalin had lobbied for the legislation but as the article above notes, it wasn’t exactly what they were hoping for.
The problem is that while SNC Lavalin has taken the headlines, Wilson-Raybould didn’t get into politics simply to defend her honour against becoming a corporate shill.
We don’t elect parties, we elect people.
Jody Wilson-Raybould is the daughter of Bill Wilson, also a lawyer, First Nations community representative and legal-political activist. Wilson holds the esteemed legacy of having successfully assisted in drafting and amending the Canadian constitution under Pierre Trudeau to “expand the concept of consent regarding Treaty rights and Aboriginal title“.
Prior to becoming an MP for Vancouver-Granville, Wilson-Raybould was very active in her community. In addition to her work as a Crown Prosecutor, she held elected positions within First Nations groups. According to her website biography, she was elected as Commissioner by the Chiefs of the First Nations Summit in 2004 and spent six years as Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations until June of 2015 when she resigned from her role, most likely to commit to a campaign for federal office.
In response to a question regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion and who should be responsible for the decision-making, Wilson-Raybould responded that it would be “misguided” for a government to try to use “constitutional muscle to push it through in the national interest”. She continued, saying
Further, we believe in the need to respect Aboriginal title and rights, including treaty rights. In BC this is of particular importance where serious weight must be given to the issue of un-extinguished Aboriginal title and the requirement for “consent” if projects cross unceded Aboriginal title lands. This situation applies in both the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway.
Truth and Reconciliation
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was a major turning point for the Government of Canada. When the report was commissioned, they had likely broken a cardinal rule: never ask a question to which you do not want the answer. Jody Wilson-Raybould was in a fantastic position to help lead the government forward on making good on the Commission’s findings. As a dedicated First Nations advocate, she was also very fortunate to be in that position.
In 2016, she referred to the report as providing a first step to “finish the unfinished business of confederation“. In a 2017 op-ed for the Globe and Mail Wilson-Raybould wrote
To this day, many aspects of formal relations between Indigenous peoples and the Crown remain based on “denial.” For example, Indigenous peoples have to prove their rights in court even though they are recognized by section 35 of Canada’s Constitution. This costs all of us hundreds of millions of dollars and takes years. Similarly, most federal laws and policies – especially those around land and resource decision-making – do not properly consider Indigenous rights. Underlying all of this is paternalistic colonial legislation, such as the Indian Act, that continues to govern the day-to-day lives of many Indigenous people and communities.
It’s not as if Wilson-Raybould is a rogue MP. She was elected to represent her constituents and by all accounts that is exactly what she is doing. In one of her final speeches as Attorney General and Justice Minister, Raybould-Wilson reiterated her commitment to First Nations.
For three years – within government and publicly – I have been explicit in outlining what I see as minimum elements of new relations based on the recognition of rights – a rights recognition framework – elements that are what Indigenous peoples have advocated for over generations.
- Harmony between the laws of Canada and UNDRIP;
- The replacement of the Comprehensive Claims Policy and Inherent Right of Self-Government Policy, and Consultation and Accommodation approaches with policies based on true recognition;
- Legislated, binding, standards on all public officials to ensure they act in all matters with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of title and rights;
- Legislative, binding, obligations on the Crown to take action in partnership with Indigenous nations to implement models of self-government that are self-determined by Indigenous peoples;
- Accountable, independent, oversight of the conduct of government respecting Indigenous rights – as well as new methods of dispute resolution that include applications of Indigenous laws and processes;
- New institutions – that are independent of government, and designed in partnership with communities – that support the work of rebuilding their nations and governments; and,
- Development of proper processes and structures between Canada and Indigenous governments for decision-making, including in order to obtain free, prior, and informed consent.
On January 7, 2019, back in Wilson-Raybould’s home province of B.C., 14 protestors were arrested. The R.C.M.P noted that the land upon which the protests were taking place was unceded and therefore “Aboriginal title to this land, and which nation holds it, has not been determined“. The Assembly of First Nations, an advocacy group for First Nations rights, also became involved.
One week later, the notice of a cabinet shuffle went public and in what was widely considered to be a demotion for Wilson-Raybould, she was moved to Veterans Affairs. One of the first commentaries aimed the reasoning for the demotion squarely at Wilson-Raybould’s advocacy to move forward on First Nations rights, which she outlined in her own words as being her primary motivation for being in politics.
Everyone has a motivation for doing anything; she is neither the first nor last. At the end of the day, political parties have a motivation as well. The government has a responsibility to work on its own priorities. While many in Alberta would disagree, a major priority for the Liberal government is seeing approvals for the Trans Mountain Expansion completed.
With little fanfare, the National Energy Board recommended cabinet approve the expansion project on February 22, 2019. Wilson-Raybould decided a mere ten days earlier she would not be part of cabinet for those discussions.
But someone has to be wondering who leaked the story in the first place; and who benefits.
with files from Sunni Rombough