“This is who I am and who I will always be.”

So ended Jody Wilson-Raybould’s (JWR) opening statement to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on February 27th.

JWR began as powerfully as she ended, by telling members of the committee, the media and a packed committee room:

“For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement [DPA] with SNC-Lavalin.”

Speaking truth to power

She then proceeded to detail a number of meetings, telephone calls, emails and text messages involving various members of her staff, herself, staff of the Prime Minister’s office (PMO), the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Chief of Staff to Minister of Finance Morneau as well as the Prime Minister himself, all part of a campaign to convince her to intervene in the case.

JWR did not mince words when she described a meeting she had with the PM and the Clerk of the Privy Council on September 17. She reported that the PM asked her to “help out,” “to find a solution here for SNC.” He pointed to potential lost jobs and the possible exit of SNC-Lavalin from Montreal if a DPA were not offered. She indicated that she had done her homework on the file and had made the decision not to intervene in the case. The PM and the Clerk kept the pressure on, reiterating their concerns about lost jobs but raising the ante by also pointing out that an election was forthcoming in Quebec, with the PM mentioning that he was a Quebec MP.

“Veiled threats”

Following her prepared remarks, JWR was questioned at length by Justice Committee members. Her responses were clear and unequivocal. It was obvious from the questions asked by the Liberal members that their agenda was to shove her under the bus in order to take the heat off the PMO and the PM himself.

JWR agreed that some conversations with the Clerk of the Privy Council contained “veiled threats,” and that she had no doubt he was the PM’s messenger. When asked about the cabinet shuffle that moved her from her position as Minister of Justice/Attorney General of Canada to the position of Minister of Veterans Affairs, she spoke very respectfully of her new position but also said that she saw it as a response to her refusal to move on the SNC-Lavalin case. She said, when asked, that her decision to leave the Cabinet was because she no longer had the confidence to sit around the cabinet table.

“I am a truth teller”

JWR has been criticized by unidentified fellow Liberal caucus members since her removal as Minister of Justice for being “a thorn in the side of the cabinet” and “difficult to get along with.” The same unnamed source(s) also claimed that she berated fellow cabinet ministers and has “always sort of been in it for herself.”

Perhaps this is because, as JWR said of herself in her testimony, she speaks truth to power. For example, in a public address last September, she noted her concerns about the reconciliation efforts of the government:

“We see ‘recognition’ applied to ideas that actually maintain ‘denial.’ We see ‘self-government’ used to refer to ideas or processes that actually maintain control over others.”

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs was quick to call out this anonymous mud-slinging for what it really is:

“racist and sexist innuendo that perpetuates colonial-era sexist stereotypes that Indigenous women cannot be powerful, forthright and steadfast in positions of power, but rather are confrontational, meddling and egotistic. . .”

It did not waste time on niceties in calling on the PM to act:

“If you do not condemn these harmful statements and apologize . . . you not only reaffirm a colonial belief system that women are inferior and disposable, but the hypocrisy of your professed feminism and ‘most important relationship’ with Indigenous people will be laid bare for all Canadians to see.”

Where now?

JWR spoke strongly in support of Canadian democracy; perhaps giving its present incarnation more credit than it deserves. She was at all times respectful and even managed the odd smile during her close to four hours in front of the Justice Committee. She stuck to the facts within her knowledge and resisted commenting on the possible motivations of others. The truthfulness of what she had to say is difficult to deny.

Nonetheless, the PM was quick to respond to her testimony by insisting that he and his staff had always acted appropriately and professionally in the SNC-Lavalin matter and that he was “definitely not in agreement” with anything she had said.

This seems to leave the PM sitting in a boat with a lot of holes, just months away from an election. Four years of promises about sunny ways and a government that would do things differently seem to have amounted instead to one more government just like all those before it.

As Neil Macdonald noted when writing about the resignation of Gerald Butts:

“The power of this story, of this ‘narrative arc,’ to use a term Trudeau himself is fond of, is the snatching away of Trudeau’s feminist/Indigenous advocate mantle by an Indigenous feminist – Trudeau being hoisted by his own moralizing petard.”

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