Jody Wilson-Raybould’s declarations about speaking truth to power are rooted in matriarchal traditions
“It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our Attorney General should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases,” Philpott wrote in a public letter to the prime minister. “Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.”
It was yet another sign that Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Liberal MP for Vancouver Granville, remains a powerful force more than three weeks after resigning from cabinet. . . .
A third Liberal MP, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, has announced that she will not be seeking reelection this October in her Whitby, Ontario, riding. In a tart tweet, she declared: “When you add women, please do not expect the status quo. Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised.” . . .
“The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected,” Wilson-Raybould told MPs on the committee. “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.”
Trudeau’s political problems are compounded by a decision to send out a bunch of men—such as former principal secretary Gerald Butts, clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson—to try to put Canadians’ minds at ease.
But to date, these Trudeau defenders have not been nearly as compelling as Wilson-Raybould was when she presented her meticulously documented 30-minute opening statement to the justice committee. And it didn’t help Trudeau when the Liberal MP for Mission-Matsqui–Fraser Canyon, Jati Sidhu, suggested that Wilson-Raybould was put up to this by her father. Sidhu later apologized.
UBC law professor Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond knows what it’s like to be out on her own speaking truth to power. As B.C.’s former advocate for children and youth, she often issued public reports about the mistreatment of young people in the care of the provincial government. At times, the backlash was very intense.
Turpel-Lafond told the Straight by phone that when she watched Wilson-Raybould testifying, she felt that this was a historic moment, paralleling the time when an Indigenous Manitoba MLA, Elijah Harper, held up the approval of the Meech Lake constitutional accord almost 30 years ago.
“I was extremely impressed by her courage and her ability to handle a very intense, pressured situation with…a thoroughness and a very logical, rational, focused approach despite a lot of the political distractions,” Turpel-Lafond said.
Others in the Indigenous community have also rallied around her, including Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew. He has said it’s really about two-tiered justice and people with money trying to receive a better deal from the politicians.
Part of Wilson-Raybould’s public appeal, according to Turpel-Lafond, is that she can demonstrate power without having an influential position in government. Moreover, Turpel-Lafond said, the MP didn’t portray herself as a victim. Instead, the former justice minister focused on how the principle of prosecutorial independence was being undermined when 10 people approached her or her chief of staff over four months to lobby for a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
Turpel-Lafond also saw Wilson-Raybould living up to the example set by matriarchs in traditional Indigenous societies.
In fact, Wilson-Raybould referred to herself as coming from a long line of matriarchs, saying she’s a “truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House”.
Turpel-Lafond revealed that in her own Cree culture, the importance of matriarchs is reflected when people say things like “Grandma makes the law; Grandpa enforces it.”
“Nobody crosses Grandma,” she added. “It’s not a harsh justice but it’s a care and concern and orderliness that comes from the important roles that are not really so much gender-defined as they are leadership-based.”
Turpel-Lafond point out that there’s an element of fearlessness in matriarchs, something she credited Wilson-Raybould with demonstrating before the justice committee.
“You have to stand up to people that are bigger than you physically,” Turpel-Lafond noted. “They may have a bigger title than you. You have to find a way to be effective in that role. She has an amazing reputation on that front.”