POLITICS
03/10/2019 20:17 EDT | Updated 03/11/2019 06:07 EDT

Sheila Copps Stands By Controversial Twitter Statements About Jody Wilson-Raybould

But she disputes the charges of racism.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press
Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps at a Liberal Party convention on Jan. 13, 2012.

Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps is not backing down from comments she made online about Jody Wilson-Raybould that generated controversy over the weekend.

Copps isn't generally a big Twitter user: until last Monday, she had only tweeted three times since the beginning of the year. But in the last week, she's sent off dozens of tweets about former justice minister Wilson-Raybould's testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The most widely circulated tweets had the former Liberal cabinet minister facing criticism of racism and of sexist language, charges she disputes as "cheap shots."

Copps says that when she wrote of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's feminist credentials that "Trudeau has not said bitch to anyone. Even though it may apply," she was not suggesting that the word apply to either Wilson-Raybould or former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott.

"I was pointing out the fact that Trudeau always uses very gentlemanly language, but perhaps he could be a little tougher," she told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview on Sunday. She feels the prime minister was betrayed by Wilson-Raybould, and she thinks betrayal should be met with strong words.

"Perhaps if I had a larger Twitter feed, I should have said, perhaps a noun will apply, but not that one," she said.

"I would never call anyone a bitch. I've been called a bitch too many times myself," she added.

Another tweet that sparked controversy tapped into the argument made by Trudeau and his former top aide that they urged Wilson-Raybould to consider the 9,000 jobs they say were at stake in the SNC-Lavalin case.

Copps theorized that Wilson-Raybould would have reacted differently if the 9,000 jobs had been held by Indigenous people.

"I don't see anything racist about that at all," Copps said. "I believe that."

"Had the potential cost in jobs been Vancouver-based, or in her community, she would have looked at it differently. Your background informs your experience, and that's pretty logical in politics."

She doesn't agree that that position implies that Wilson-Raybould was working for Indigenous communities more than the general public: "No, no. I never said that," she said, before politely excusing herself to deal with an octopus she was pressure-cooking.

Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press
Former Canadian justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould prior to giving her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair on Feb. 27, 2019.

"Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a racist," she says. "There is a higher test for women, for minorities, for Indigenous people. For sure. Sadly, it's not fair."

When asked if her comment about Wilson-Raybould perpetuated that double standard, Copps said no, that she was simply commenting on the former minister's background informing her choices.

"I went to my first powwow when I was eight years old, and I've spent my life working for Indigenous empowerment. Anybody who says otherwise just doesn't know what they're talking about."

Some critics also took issue with Copps' use of the phrase "the aboriginal agenda" on the grounds that it made Indigenous issues sound menacing. Copps says she's baffled by that, because to her the phrase has only positive connotations. It's not a phrase she'll stop using, she says: "An Indigenous agenda is a positive thing. That's part of reconciliation."

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Copps believes her record on Indigenous issues while she was heritage minister speaks for itself. And she says she's received hundreds of messages of support from people who agree with what she's said.

But she added that she's unlikely to turn to Twitter in the future.

"It's not really a good place to have a dialogue. It sets itself up as kind of [a place to have] a dialogue, but really it's just like people bashing each other over the head."

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