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Politics Trudeau dodges criticism from Indigenous leaders over Wilson-Raybould cabinet shuffle

Newly-appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould poses for a photo with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette during Trudeau's cabinet shuffle, in Ottawa, on Jan. 14, 2019.

PATRICK DOYLE/REUTERS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined Friday to address criticism from Indigenous leaders over his decision to move Jody Wilson-Raybould from the high-profile Justice portfolio.

Mr. Trudeau was asked at the conclusion of a cabinet retreat to respond to concerns expressed this week that the cabinet shuffle announced Monday was at odds with his pledge to focus on reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network this week that “there’s enormous disappointment” over Mr. Trudeau’s decision to shuffle Ms. Wilson-Raybould out of the influential Justice portfolio.

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“I can tell you with great certainty this disappointing and disturbing decision on the part of the Prime Minister has reverberated across this country,” Mr. Phillip said. “I don’t think you’re going to find too many people supporting the Liberals during the next federal election.”

Mr. Trudeau declined to address those comments directly when asked by an APTN reporter and instead focused on Ms. Raybould-Wilson’s new assignment as Minister of Veterans Affairs.

“Jody Wilson-Raybould has been a hard-working minister, is a great person and we have given her a very important job that I know she is going to do well,” he told reporters as Ms. Wilson-Raybould and the rest of the federal cabinet stood behind him following a three-day retreat in Sherbrooke, Que. “Offering and delivering services to people who have served this country is something that Canadians rely on, that all of us know is extraordinarily important and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Ms. Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s first Indigenous Minister of Justice and was a regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations prior to entering federal politics as the Liberal candidate for Vancouver Granville in the last election.

In Monday’s cabinet shuffle, she was moved to Veterans Affairs as part of a small shuffle triggered by Scott Brison’s decision to step down as Treasury Board President to spend more time with his family.

Mr. Brison was replaced at Treasury Board by Jane Philpott, while Ms. Philpott’s previous role as Indigenous Services Minister was handed to Seamus O’Regan. Ms. Wilson-Raybould was moved to Veterans Affairs, replacing Mr. O’Regan, while Montreal-area MP David Lametti was promoted into cabinet as Justice Minister.

Six Indigenous lawyers criticized Mr. Trudeau’s shuffle of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as “bizarre and incoherent” in a joint opinion piece published this week in The Globe and Mail.

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“Her demotion from the vital portfolio has been accompanied by insider whispers, based on poisonous stereotypes that Indigenous peoples, and women in particular, face every day: that she was angry, difficult and uncompromising,” wrote lawyers Merle Alexander, Leah George-Wilson, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Val Napoleon, Doug White and Naiomi Metallic. “The racial and gender stereotypes being used to diminish her only prove that the status quo has already won, yet again. Mr. Trudeau’s professed most important relationship remains one grounded in oppression, colonialism and paternalism – and the events of the past few days demonstrate that.”

On the day of the cabinet shuffle, Ms. Wilson-Raybould wore an expression that suggested she was unhappy with the move. Later that day, she posted a lengthy social media post that further hinted that she was displeased.

“It has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role,” she wrote.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould attended the three-day cabinet retreat but she did not speak with reporters.

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