OTTAWA, ON – The Indigenous Bar Association in Canada (the “IBA”) disagrees with the Liberal government’s decision to reassign the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould (Puglaas) from her position as the Minister of Justice to serve as the Minister of Veterans Affairs as part of its recent cabinet shuffle.
In the IBA’s view, the timing of Wilson-Raybould’s reassignment was poorly orchestrated and calls into question the commitment of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to the meaningful recognition and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) and the principles of reconciliation.
A media statement from the IBA states, “At the commencement of her term in office, Puglaas maintained a reputation as a formidable politician who used her education, enthusiasm and ingenuity to advance the rights and interest of Indigenous peoples in British Columbia. As a descendant of a plethora of influential politicians, including Bill Wilson and Ethel Pearson, she continues her family’s legacy by refusing to accept mediocre progress on issues of vital importance to our country. In each of her roles as a lawyer, Chair of the British Columbia Treaty Commission, Councillor of the We Wai Kai Nation and Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Puglaas has defended Indigenous rights and interests with vigour and humility. It is difficult to conceive of a more suitable Indigenous—or non-Indigenous—candidate to serve Canada as a member of Parliament.
It is beyond dispute that Puglaas pursued her mandate as the Minister of Justice with discipline, dedication and unrelenting tenacity. During her time as Minister, Puglaas oversaw and implemented measures in response to the tidal changes in our rapidly evolving society, including: the adoption of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying); Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code; and Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts. Specifically, Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts represents the most comprehensive reform to the Criminal Code transportation regime in more than 40 years, including drug and alcohol-impaired driving.
The IBA is particularly grateful for Puglaas’ contribution to the advancement of Indigenous rights in Canada. In this regard, her accomplishments are remarkable. While serving as the Minister of Justice, Puglaas endorsed UNDRIP on behalf of the Liberal government without qualification. The significance of this act for advancing reconciliation cannot be overstated. She oversaw key changes to the process for appointing judges across Canada, with the goal of ensuring the process “is transparent and accountable to Canadians, and promotes greater diversity on the bench.” She launched, in collaboration with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Status of Women, a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Puglaas has proven herself time and time again to be one of the most accomplished and dedicated public servants in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.
With the federal election looming, relieving a strong Indigenous advocate from her duties as the Justice Minister is a monumental symbol of the Liberal government’s lack of commitment to the meaningful recognition of Indigenous rights and interests
Against this backdrop, it is puzzling why the Prime Minister decided to reassign Puglaas to serve as the Minister of Veterans Affairs only nine months prior to the federal election—and only days after she released Canada’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples that introduces 20 litigation guidelines for how the Crown proceeds with any litigation file involving Indigenous parties or issues. While Puglaas accepted her reassignment with candour and grace, it is well-known that the Minister of Justice plays a central role within the federal cabinet, particularly insofar as the administration of justice towards Indigenous peoples is concerned. Given her credentials and role within Indigenous communities and organizations, Puglaas was well-suited to carry out the balance of the term and complete the initiatives that she worked tirelessly to pursue, including, the introduction of legislation addressing Indigenous child and family services in Canada, an area that is grossly in need of immediate reform.
The Prime Minister’s timing of Puglaas’ reassignment sends a strong signal of what his government’s approach to meaningful change for Indigenous peoples will look like in the coming months. The Prime Minister has said and included in the mandate for all Ministers, that “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”
With the federal election looming, relieving a strong Indigenous advocate from her duties as the Justice Minister is a monumental symbol of the Liberal government’s lack of commitment to the meaningful recognition of Indigenous rights and interests.
The IBA is a national association comprised of Indigenous lawyers (practicing and non-practicing), legal academics and scholars, articling clerks and law students, including graduate and post-graduate law students. We are mandated to promote the advancement of legal and social justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada and the reform of laws and policies affecting Indigenous peoples.