The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak out against “racist and sexist” language against former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould by officials in comments to media over recent days.
In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Chief Robert Chamberlin said they spoke on behalf of the union in asking for Trudeau to “immediately and categorically publicly condemn” what they described as “innuendo” about Wilson-Raybould, before pointing to descriptions such as those used in a report by the Canadian Press over the weekend.
That report referenced unspecified “insiders” and suggested Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from the high-profile portfolio last month because “she had become a thorn in the side of the cabinet, someone insiders say was difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow cabinet ministers openly at the table.”
Her move to Minister of Veterans Affairs has been widely characterized as a demotion.
“These disingenuous statements are cowardly, low blows aimed at discrediting the staunch work ethic Minister Wilson-Raybould has maintained,” the statement said.
“They perpetuate colonial-era, sexist stereotypes that Indigenous women cannot be powerful, forthright, and steadfast in positions of power, but rather confrontational, meddling and egotistic. These comments from your staff must be recognized for what they are — blatant sexism.”
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A report by the Globe and Mail last week alleged Wilson-Raybould was moved after she refused to bow to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and ask the public prosecutor to cut a deal to save the company from going to trial.
If convicted on the corruption and fraud charges facing the firm, SNC-Lavalin would face a decade-long ban on bidding for lucrative federal contracts.
Trudeau has said the report is “false” but admitted on Monday he has since been reminded of a conversation with Wilson-Raybould on the matter.
In that talk, Trudeau said, “She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall, where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone.”
He also added that he had “full confidence” in Wilson-Raybould and appeared to suggest she would have resigned from cabinet if she felt any inappropriate pressure had been applied by officials.
Following his remarks, Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes tweeted in defence of Wilson-Raybould and said women who speak out are often criticized.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs thanked Caesar-Chavannes for her defence of Wilson-Raybould, saying her tweet “precisely captures the sexist agenda being carried out against Minister Wilson-Raybould.”
Phillip and Chamberlin continued, noting the rhetoric against Wilson-Raybould is “an attempt to save face and initiate damage control about the purported wrongdoings of your office by attacking and discrediting a prominent Indigenous woman and leader.”
“We urge you to take responsibility for your behavior and that of your government,” they wrote.
“If you do not condemn these harmful statements and apologize to Minister Wilson-Raybould, you not only reaffirm a colonial belief system that Indigenous 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.”
Trudeau is set to face questions about the matter Tuesday afternoon during a media availability in Manitoba.
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