The Prime Minister’s Office is condemning the comments reported in the press and attributed to unnamed Liberal Party insiders about Jody Wilson-Raybould’s character.
“The comments made about Jody Wilson-Raybould are simply unacceptable, and have no place in our political discourse,” Matt Pascuzzo, Justin Trudeau’s press secretary, said in an email to APTN News.
It’s the first public response from Trudeau’s office to statements published in a Feb. 9 Canadian Press story that many have called sexist.
On Tuesday the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) published an open letter to Trudeau, demanding he “immediately and categorically publicly condemn the racist and sexist innuendo about Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that is being spread by unnamed elected officials and staff of your government in media reports.”
The CP story paraphrased unnamed Liberal Party “insiders” saying Wilson-Raybould “had become a thorn in the side of the cabinet,” that she was “difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow cabinet ministers openly at the table, and who others felt they had trouble trusting.”
One source was quoted saying the former justice minister and attorney general has “always sort of been in it for herself.
“It’s never been about the government or the cabinet. Everything is very Jody-centric.”
In their letter the UBCIC executive called the statements “cowardly, low blows aimed at discrediting the staunch work ethic Minister Wilson-Raybould has maintained.
“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.”
The letter contains similar concerns to another one UBCIC published in December, after Trudeau addressed Neskonlith Indian Band Kukpi7 Judy Wilson by her first name at an Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly in Ottawa.
Wilson, who also serves as UBCIC’s secretary treasurer, told Trudeau he did not have the consent of Secwepemc rights and title holders to run the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project through their unceded territory.
Responding, Trudeau told Wilson she should “be careful about minimizing or ascribing reasons for people who take positions that disagree with you,” referring to elected Secwepemc band chiefs and councils that do support the pipeline.
“I don’t think we should be criticizing them, just because they disagree with you, Judy,” he added.
Trudeau’s treatment of Wilson drew outrage from First Nation leaders.
Former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North said she was “taken aback” by Trudeau’s comments.
North, one of the candidates for AFN National Chief last year, said the prime minister “wasn’t respecting [Wilson’s] position as a representative of her people, and she deserves a lot more respect than that.”
UBCIC immediately demanded Trudeau apologize for the comments, saying they “[run] the risk of sending a message to Canadians that it’s ok to belittle, berate and lecture female Indigenous leaders.
“It sends a message that it’s ok to continue these attacks towards our Indigenous women whether it is in the boardroom, meetings or dealing with issues on the land, and it runs the grave risk of discouraging Indigenous women to stand up to defend themselves.”
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of Neskonlith Indian Band confronted Justin Trudeau in Dec. 2018 on Secwepemc rights and title. APTN.
Following the PMO’s respond to our request for comment on the Liberal insiders’ statements about Wilson-Raybould, APTN asked if the prime minister could respond directly to the UBCIC’s concerns about Trudeau’s comments to Chief Wilson.
“As the Prime Minister has said before, no relationship is more important to our government than the one with Indigenous peoples,” Pascuzzo said in an email response.
“The PM has the utmost respect for Indigenous leaders, including Chief Judy Wilson.”
Trudeau came under fire this week after also referring to Wilson-Raybould by her first name.
Following a funding announcement in Winnipeg Tuesday, Trudeau repeatedly referred Wilson-Raybould as “Jody” while addressing reporters.
APTN asked Pascuzzo again if the prime minister would respond directly to the UBCIC’s concerns over the potential impacts of his behaviour to Wilson, and also to the criticism over his calling Wilson-Raybould by her first name.
“The PM has the utmost respect for all Indigenous leaders,” Pascuzzo said.