Surely, it would shock most people to unknowingly have their phone calls recorded and later used against them in a public forum. But what if they were a political leader and the person recording them was a lawyer? Perhaps they’re a federal servant being recorded by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. It is not so “unconscionable,” as Justin Trudeau describes, to imagine this in light of the threats Michael Wernick has made against the career of an Indigenous woman in politics, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
What’s unconscionable is that since 2015, 189 federal servants spied on children’s rights advocate Cindy Blackstock, according to the Aboriginal People’s Television Network. Overseeing this was that same Michael Wernick, former deputy minister and clerk of the Privy Council.
Did you know it’s perfectly legal to record any conversation that you are a part of, with or without consent from the other parties involved? It’s probably less legal, however, to follow around a children’s rights advocate, spy on her meetings, phone calls, and social media, all without a warrant, just to find a way to drop a human rights complaint that Canada discriminates and underfunds Indigenous children’s welfare.
Though the Conservatives were in power when all this began, it was Werneck who spearheaded the campaign. He remained deputy minister until days before Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from Cabinet in February.
For those unaware, Wilson-Raybould Wilson-Raybould refused to bend to pressures from Trudeau to offer a deferred prosecution agreement to construction contractor SNC-Lavalin for the company’s alleged offenses in Libya. On Jan. 14, Trudeau shuffled Wilson-Raybould from her Minister of Justice and Attorney General portfolio to Veteran Affairs, and on Feb. 12 Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet and went public with the suggestions made to her to exercise prosecutorial discretion by offering a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin. These suggestions included veiled threats made against her career, as shown in recordings of her phone calls which she also made public.
Though the former Minister of Justice seems to have made great strides in standing against corruption, she hasn’t always been a hero. In 2012, Wilson-Raybould worked with Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain on Bill S-212, said to provide recognition of self-governance by First Nations. Many First Nations spoke out against this bill, which did not pass, and said it was part of a long-term strategy to extinguish Aboriginal title by reducing First Nations to municipal bodies.
In addition, one of the first promises that Wilson-Raybould and the Liberal Party made when they took office was to implement the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which would require the government to obtain from Indigenous people their “free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.” Sadly it has not been implemented, and in 2016 Wilson-Raybould said it was “unworkable” in law. That’s not much follow-through for a promise that swung Indigenous voters back in 2015.
This presents an interesting conundrum for a government condemning recording, promoting Nation-to-Nation relationships, and supposedly supporting representation from 2015 to now. On one hand, Wilson-Raybould’s time in office has contributed to the diminishment and extinguishment of Indigenous rights. On the other, this was the Liberal government’s policy throughout its term. The Liberals pushed for the development of LNG, Trans Mountain, CoastalGasLink, and the Site C dam. They denied accountability for children’s rights and medical care via Jordan’s Principle, and did so much more.
Wilson-Raybould’s principled stand is the most righteous decision she has made during her time in office. Perhaps it means she will begin down a redemptive path for her work that has done damage for Indigenous folks’ rights on Turtle Island. For the Indigenous peoples impacted, it may make little difference. But surely, it has shown the Liberal party’s anti-Indigenous colour, just in time for an upcoming federal election.