Since former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified earlier this week, there has been an outpouring of support for her.
That includes in Vancouver where chiefs and political leaders came together to share their thoughts on the events that shook federal politics in Canada.
“I think our ancestors are smiling with us,” said Acqueline Thomas from Saik’uz First Nation in B.C. “I really believe that she showed the country the true strength of Aboriginal people especially Aboriginal women.”
Wilson-Raybould testified on Wednesday before the justice committee to talk about, what she called, political pressure to intervene in the criminal case of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould says her experiences as an Indigenous person and the values she was raised with are what drove her to challenge the highest echelons of power in Canada.
“The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected,” she said.
The former justice minister and attorney general testified Wednesday that she came under relentless pressure — including veiled threats — from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his senior staff, the top public servant and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office to halt a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
And she says she believes she was shuffled out of the prestigious justice portfolio to veterans affairs in January because she refused to give in to it.
Wilson-Raybould made the stunning and detailed accusations in testimony Wednesday before the House of Commons justice committee, breaking three weeks of silence on the affair that has rocked the government, prompting her resignation from cabinet and the departure of Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s most trusted adviser.
Support for Wilson-Raybould in political circles is mixed
Canada’s former justice minister could have been more flexible in her decision-making process, says the co-chair of the Liberal Indigenous Caucus.
Robert Falcon-Ouellette, the Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, says what Canadians saw from Jody Wilson-Raybould’s explosive testimony Wednesday was a peek behind the parliamentary curtain.
“What we saw yesterday was us learning and watching not only how sausage was made but also seeing a slaughterhouse and how decisions are come by,” he told APTN News.
“And it’s not a pretty process.”
Falcon-Ouellette is one of nine members of the caucus. APTN asked all of them for comment.
He said it sounded like the former attorney general became entrenched in her position instead of absorbing new information from Justin Trudeau and others as it became available.
“The problem in politics is often sometimes people make a decision and they think no matter what happens they have to stick and be immobile and never make a change,” he said in an interview.
Falcon-Ouellette said he believes what both politicians have to say about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“I’ve met the prime minister, too. I’ve heard his version of the facts,” he said.
“He was working to make sure that all perspectives are looked at on an issue.”
Don Rusnak, former chair of the Liberal Indigenous Caucus, also comes down squarely in the middle.
“It is unfortunate that Ms. Wilson-Raybould felt pressured in her role as Attorney General,” the Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP said in an emailed statement.
“At the same time, the Prime Minister has been clear that he and his staff always acted appropriately and according to all the rules. It is normal for the government to have discussions about potential jobs losses and to be focused on growing the economy.”
Rusnak, now parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indigenous services, sees “growth and change” coming out of the situation.
Specifically, whether the roles of attorney general and minister of justice should be separated.
“I agree with this,” added the lawyer, who declined to say whether Wilson-Raybould should quit the Liberal caucus.
Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders expressed solidarity behind Wilson-Raybould.
One Manitoba chief saw parallels between the way the B.C. MP withstood “sustained pressure” and how Elijah Harper shut down the Meech Lake Accord in 1990.
Harper, a former MLA, MP and chief of a northern Manitoba First Nation, achieved national fame when he stood in the Manitoba legislature and refused to support the deal.
“The truth-telling testimony of the former attorney general will be held up as one of those moments where Indigenous people stuck to their principles much to the same effect as Elijah Harper stood against his government,” said Garrison Settee, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak grand chief.
In Saskatchewan, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, applauded Wilson-Raybould’s “integrity and courage” in speaking out.
“In our culture, matriarchs are the heart of our home fires and we wanted to thank her for everything she’s done to highlight the spirit and intent of our people,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a release.
Stuart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said Wilson-Raybould’s words grabbed attention across Canada.
“To stand up to the power structure…she took down some of the sickest bullies in Ottawa,” he told APTN.
“There’s a real buzz going on in our communities.”
-with files from Kathleen Martens, Martha Troian, and Justin Brake