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Justice minister won’t rule out Gustafsen Lake inquiry but says it’s not a priority

Canada's Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. (FILE PHOTO).

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

The federal justice minister is not ruling out an inquiry into the 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff between native activists and the RCMP in British Columbia but suggests it's not a top priority now, given a busy political agenda.

The issue around the infamous confrontation that resonates in B.C. to this day arose twice in audience questions Saturday after Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered a speech at a Simon Fraser University forum – her first such major event since being appointed justice minister last fall.

Pressed on the issue of an inquiry into the 31-day confrontation, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she had received correspondence from William Jones Ignace, also known as Wolverine, calling for the federal action.

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"I am aware of the situation and have received correspondence in that regard. I am, in no way, pushing it away as not important. I certainly will give the necessary consideration," Ms. Wilson-Raybould said, responding to a question from Mr. Ignace's niece, who noted he is not doing well.

She noted: "I acknowledge Wolverine. I am sorry to hear he is not doing well."

But she said all ministers have been given public mandate letters setting out priorities that have to be addressed, suggesting they are focused on current priorities laid out by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff began when First Nations protesters occupied land near 100 Mile House they said was sacred, prompting the RCMP to deploy about 400 armed officers Although the Mounties fired thousands of rounds of ammunition, only one person was injured and no one killed in the 31-day standoff.

Earlier this month, Mr. Ignace, now 83, wrote to Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Wilson-Raybould about the issue., suggesting the standoff "cast a deep shadow on the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous nations, which to this day has not been adequately investigated."

He added: "An inquiry into the Ts'Peten (Gustafsen Lake) standoff would demonstrate that the Canadian government is truly committed to a new era of respectful nation-to-nation relationships in which the wrongs of the past are thoroughly understood and acknowledged, ensuring that threats, intimidation, defamation and force are never again used against Indigenous people in Canada."

Saturday's speech, a subsequent moderated discussion and questions from the audience were an opportunity for reflection after several whirlwind months that have seen the former prosecutor and regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First nations became Canada's first aboriginal justice minister.

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Her expansive 30-minute speech touched on the place of First Nations in Canada, past, present and future.

She said the exclusion of First Nations people as partners in Confederation has had "far-reaching implications" since then

.

The work of reconciliation today is, in many ways, at its core, about rectifying this exclusion."

She noted that her boss, Mr. Trudeau, has committed to a new nation-to-nation relationship.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she remembered as a "very, very young girl" in 1983 watching her father, native leader Bill Wilson, verbally joust with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, father to the current prime minister, who convinced her to join a political party for the first time and run for a seat in Parliament.

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Mr. Wilson was vice president of the Native Council of Canada, attending a first ministers' conference.

At one point, Mr. Wilson said one of his daughters would become prime minister. Mr. Trudeau replied: "Tell them I'll stick around until they're ready."

Ms. Wilson-Raybould remembered watching the conference on TV. She was in her Grade 6 class. She recalled the historic importance of the moment, her father's pride in his children.

However, she added: "I was really embarrassed to sit in my class and watch this and everybody was looking at me, but for my sister and I and a lot of our cousins, we were taken to meetings and told to sit there and not say a word but to listen and learn.

"Did I want to be the prime minister at the time? No. I think it was our father being so optimistic and thinking: 'I have fantastic kids and we have instilled values in them to know that you stick to your values and the decisions that you make and if you work hard, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve'."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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