Embattled former minister of justice and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould attended a ceremony and feast held in her honour on Vancouver Island on Saturday as the SNC-Lavalin scandal deepened in Ottawa.
Elders came up with idea to recognize Wilson-Raybould at the ceremony in Campbell River, said Robert Duncan, chief administrative officer for We Wai Kai Nation, which is based in Campbell River and neighbouring Quadra Island.
The Liberal MP for Vancouver-Granville is a We Wai Kai member, and she’s at the centre of a political crisis that has embroiled the federal government for weeks.
In an email, Duncan said the “intent of the feast and ceremony was to show the world that we love this woman of integrity (Puglaas) and wanted to give her a great big hug and demonstrate our support for her.”
Puglaas, Wilson-Raybould’s Kwak’wala name, translates to “woman born of noble people” or “woman with integrity.”
The ceremony, which took place on Saturday afternoon at Kwanwatsi Big House or House of Thunder on the Wei Wai Kum reserve in central Campbell River, was attended by about 500 people. Wei Wai Kum First Nation is also known as the Campbell River Indian Band.
Led by Wilson-Raybould’s grandmother’s Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw nation, the four-hour ceremony involved a traditional brushing with spruce boughs and was meant to give her strength, Duncan said.
Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw traditional territories are located in a coastal area northeast of Vancouver Island, according to a map on the website of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw Tribal Council.
Duncan said that many other nations from B.C. attended and were given a chance to show their respect and appreciation for Wilson-Raybould, many bringing gifts and songs. This was followed by a traditional feast at nearby Thunderbird Hall.
Gilakas’la to all who attended & witnessed the ceremony/work in KwinWatsi Big House as well as the feast yesterday – 🙏🏽Litwit daxw. Continue to feel empowered & grateful our Indigenous laws, culture & Nations remain so strong. Pic: Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw chiefs (‘Gigame’ & me) pic.twitter.com/fC1K4p29zY
— Jody Wilson-Raybould (@Puglaas) March 31, 2019
On Twitter, Wilson-Raybould posted a message of thanks with a photo of herself with several Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw hereditary chiefs.
“Continue to feel empowered & grateful our Indigenous laws, culture & Nations remain so strong,” she said in the tweet.
Wilson-Raybould served as minister of justice and attorney general under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but was reassigned as minister of veterans affairs in January.
She quit that position the following month amid reports that she came under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to stop a criminal prosecution of the multinational engineering firm of SNC-Lavalin in favour of a deferred prosecution agreement.
She later testified that she believes she was moved to Veterans Affairs as punishment for refusing to succumb to the pressure.
Saturday’s event in Campbell River follows the release of a 17-minute audio clip of a phone conversation with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick recorded in secret by Wilson-Raybould in December.
In the call, Wernick repeatedly asks Wilson-Raybould why she was not using all the tools at her disposal on the SNC-Lavalin case. She pushes back, saying she would not override the decision of the director of public prosecutions to pursue a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin for bribery and fraud related to its activities in Libya.
Wernick told her that Trudeau was “quite determined” on the matter and would likely “find a way to get it done one way or another.”
The audio was released on Friday by the House of Commons justice committee, along with a 43-page brief from Wilson-Raybould that includes emails and text messages.
In her written submission, Wilson-Raybould acknowledged recording the conversation was an “extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate step” but said she felt it necessary to have an exact record of what was discussed.
The audio has fueled criticism of the Liberal government for allegedly interfering in the SNC-Lavalin case. But it has also contributed to blowback against Wilson-Raybould, with Minister of Labour Patty Hajdu saying it was “unethical” for her to secretly record the phone call.
Wilson-Raybould is facing removal from the Liberal caucus, but has indicated that she plans to run as a Liberal in the upcoming federal election.
With files from the Canadian Press