RICHMOND, B.C.— Expelled Liberals Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott called out their former government over Indigenous rights on Wednesday, adding to the pair’s previous criticisms that plunged Ottawa into scandal.
In their first public speech together since their ouster on April 2, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott pointed to a lack of progress on “urgent” crises that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to tackle.
“My fear and disappointment,” Wilson-Raybould told the audience at the First Nations Provincial Justice Forum in Richmond, B.C., “is that … the federal government has fallen back once again into a pattern of trying to ‘manage the problem’ with Indigenous people and make incremental and limited shifts rather than reforming the status quo.”
Wilson-Raybould, former attorney general, and Philpott, former Indigenous services minister, resigned from their cabinet positions over allegations the Prime Minister’s Office attempted to meddle in the corruption and fraud prosecution of Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
But in her speech to the justice conference, the former attorney general focused on her unsuccessful attempts to get more action on Indigenous issues during her time in government. She said that despite Trudeau’s “historic” promise in February 2018 to create a framework for recognizing Indigenous rights, significant progress has not been made.
“While steps forward are being taken, they are not happening as coherently, systematically or quickly as is needed.”
Still, Wilson-Raybould remains optimistic, saying Canadians want to address the way the country has failed to follow its own rule of law when it comes to recognizing Indigenous rights and title. She cited many times when First Nations have had to fight for their rights to land, which are already enshrined in Canadian law.
She noted that “Canadians from coast to coast” are starting to understand the need for change after the “tragic cases” of slain Indigenous teens Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The deaths reignited public debate on how Indigenous people are treated by society and the justice system.
“The lifeblood of colonization is written in the laws of this country,” she said. “We need to ensure with respect to justice … our voices must be heard and these policies and laws are based on recognition, not denial.”
Philpott, meanwhile, addressed the urgent need for housing and educational infrastructure on First Nations reserves, saying she was “aghast” at what she learned during her time as Indigenous services minister.
Philpott also briefly addressed the SNC-Lavalin scandal, saying “we will look back at this year and we will see democracy has been strengthened.”
In February, Wilson-Raybould alleged in testimony before a House of Commons committee she was subjected to “veiled threats” and months of “partisan pressure” to overrule her independent prosecutors’ decision to pursue charges against SNC-Lavalin. Trudeau initially called the story “false,” then accused Wilson-Raybould of failing to raise her concerns with him last fall, before admitting she had spoken to him about why she opposed intervening in an independent decision.
Trudeau, who is a member of Parliament in Quebec, later said the prosecution would have cost up to 9,000 jobs in the province if the firm was convicted and thus banned from bidding on federal contracts for 10 years.
Wednesday’s convention featuring the pair, organized by the First Nations Justice Council, addressed proposals to reform the country’s justice system to address the persistent overrepresentation of Indigenous people in courts and prisons.
Following the talk, Wilson-Raybould added that she was still talking with her constituents in her Vancouver-Granville riding and was likely not done with public life.
“I look forward making some decisions in the near future,” she told reporters. “I believe that my time in politics is not over.”
David P. Ball is a Vancouver-based reporter covering democracy and politics. Email him or follow him on Twitter: @davidpball
Cherise Seucharan is a Vancouver-based reporter covering health, civil liberties and safety/youth. Email her or follow her on Twitter: @CSeucharan