APTN National News
November 4, 2015
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould as the minister of Justice was a “historic” move that signals the relationship between the Crown and the Indigenous peoples in Canada is about to undergo an unprecedented shift, according to a prominent Indigenous lawyers.
Donald Worme said as he watched Wilson-Raybould’s appointment on television in the lounge at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, he gave a high-five to Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
“There is no question about it, this is a historic appointment,” said Worme, a founding member of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada from Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan.
Wilson-Raybould is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich‑Kwil‑Tach peoples who are part of the Kwakwaka’wakw and Kwak’wala speaking peoples. She is a former provincial Crown prosecutor and held the role of AFN regional chief for British Columbia from 2009 to 2015. Wilson‑Raybould was also an adviser to the B.C. Treaty Commission.
Wilson-Raybould’s name was floated early on as a possible cabinet appointment in the lead-up to Wednesday’s swearing-in, but her appointment as Justice minister remained a secret until the official ceremony.
Worme said Wilson-Raybould is essentially now the federal government’s top lawyer and she will now oversee key files that directly impact Indigenous peoples.
“It seems to me that the pursuit of justice is the mission and aim of that minister on behalf of the entire Canadian government,” said Worme. “Someone like Jody Wilson-Raybould will accomplish that mission.”
The Justice Minister plays a major role in issues like specific claims, comprehensive claims and ensuring federal laws comply with the Constitution. Wilson-Raybould will also likely play a major role in the establishment of the promised inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, said Anishinaabe constitutional lawyer David Nahwegahbow.
“I feel very positive about this. Many of our issues are legal issues. I think she will be well positioned to address them as Justice minister,” said Nahwegahbow, who is from Whitefish River First Nation and past president of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada. “I think it is tremendous, it has the potential to be a major game changer.”
Under the Harper government, the federal Justice department has been one of the main antagonists of First Nations, spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting Aboriginal rights in the courts.
Under Wilson-Raybould, Worme said he hopes that antagonism changes.
“The litigation that the government of Canada has engaged in against Indigenous people will come to an end, that is the hope,” he said. “To ensure that the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal people in this country can be allowed to grow and flourish.”
As a commission counsel during the Ipperwash judicial inquiry in Ontario which investigated the OPP shooting death of Dudley George and the lead counsel for the family of Neil Stonechild during the inquiry into the Saskatoon police’s involvement in the teen’s freezing death, Worme has seen first-hand the sometimes deadly results from the interplay between the justice system and Indigenous people.
Worme said Wilson-Raybould’s appointment is like a new dawn after a long night.
“It is seriously important,” he said. “An Indigenous Justice Minister cannot be understated, it is a very important position in the government of Canadas and having someone of the caliber of Jody Wilson-Raybould says a lot for the future of this country.”
And could the future of the country also see a prime minister named Jody?
The Justice portfolio has been seen as a stepping-stone for future prime ministers. Trudeau’s father, prime minister Pierre Trudeau was a Justice minister as was prime minister Jean Chretien.
Worme recalled Wilson-Raybould’s father, Bill Wilson, once saying that his daughter would one day be prime minister.
“(He was) speaking with a great deal of emotion and a great deal of hope in his voice about the future of this country that someday his daughter would become prime minister,” he said. “That is certainly our hope for Jody Wilson-Raybould.”