Nation to Nation
Back when the federal government was doing everything it could to get Cindy Blackstock’s human rights complaint tossed out, she was being spied on by federal servants under the former department of Indian Affairs while Stephen Harper was prime minister.
The deputy minister was Michael Wernick.
If his name is familiar it’s because he was at the centre of the SNC-Lavalin scandal as the clerk of the Privy Council – or the most powerful federal servant in the country and the prime minister’s deputy minister.
He was, that is, as he retired days before Jody Wilson-Raybould submitted a recorded telephone conversation between them to the Justice committee.
Wernick is clear in the call that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted Wilson-Raybould to look at giving a SNC-Lavalin a break, otherwise known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
Everyone knows now Wilson-Raybould refused to budge and has come under fire for recording the call.
In fact, it appears to have a played a role in her being kicked out of the Liberal caucus earlier this week.
This is what Trudeau said: “If a politician secretly records a conversation with anyone, it’s wrong. When that politician is a cabinet minister secretly recording a public servant, it’s wrong. And when that cabinet minister is the attorney general of Canada, secretly recording the clerk of the Privy Council, it’s unconscionable.”
Now back to Blackstock.
Her movements were followed by Indian Affairs for nearly four years under Wernick based on documents she obtained after the human rights complaint was first filed 12 years ago by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.
Blackstock said those documents show 189 federal servants were involved during that period that also included officials from the Justice department.
“What they would do is go on my social media but they also followed my personal movements. So they have notes from meetings where I wasn’t at and they sent around a note saying she is not here. And they even have a note of a meeting I had in the middle of the desert of Australia,” said Blackstock on Nation to Nation Thursday.
“So that kind of stuff went on for years and they had no warrant. There was never any allegation I was doing anything criminally wrong. They just wanted to get rid of the case. So I find it a bit surprising to see all this hoopla now about the tape recording of Michael Wernick’s conversation with Jody Wilson Raybould because he was the deputy minister of the department when all of this was happening.”
Blackstock also talked about Wernick giving employees in the department the highest award possible for fighting Jordan’s Principle, a program helps First Nations children received medical and health treatments.
The NDP said the recording isn’t the issue.
“We certainly need an independent inquiry, I mean we have to find out whether or not the top people in the Prime Minister’s Office attempted to get a company, charged with international bribery and corruption, off charges. That’s the issue,” said Charlie Angus. “It’s not whether Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a nice person, whether she recorded a conversation, whether she was hard to get along with. The question is that she said clearly in public that this interference undermined the rule of law.”
When news of the story first broke in the Globe and Mail newspaper back in early February, Trudeau said the allegations were “false.”
Anyone following along knows that isn’t exactly true as the first story said she was heavily pressured to make a deal.
“If you look at the prime minister every time he turns around for the last eight weeks his story has changed. First he said the story was false and then he said well there was a little bit of pressure,” said Cathy McLeod, Conservative critic on Indigenous affairs.
But the Liberal media lines are simple.
“Jody Wilson-Raybould said unequivocally, Number 1, no laws were broken during this whole process, and Number 2 it was always clear that the final decision was hers as attorney general and let’s not forget as we tape this, as I speak, SNC Lavalin is getting prosecuted by the government of Canada,” said Dan Vandal, parliamentary secretary for Indigenous Services.
There is one court it will end up in – the court of public opinion, as the federal election is schedule for this October.
Voters can decide then and, while the Liberals benefited from the Indigenous vote in 2015, they shouldn’t be expecting the same this time around.
“Our people are becoming very politically savvy so I think they are going to see through this and it’s going to be difficult for the Liberals in the fall,” said Doug Cuthand, a columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
And as for Blackstock’s human right complaint against Canada that found it has discriminately underfunded First Nations child welfare, she won that case in January 2016, almost 10 years after it was first filed.
It’s opened the door for thousands of children to get treatment under Jordan’s Principle.
But it’s not over.
Canada gets called back, again and again, to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for non-compliance.
This time in part for reparations for all the children it discriminated against.