In the last two weeks, reports have emerged that Justin Trudeau, or someone in the Prime Minister's Office, may have attempted to influence the prosecution of the SNC-Lavalin case. The fallout has been well publicized, and ultimately led to Jody Wilson-Raybould's resignation from Trudeau's cabinet.
The resignation brought an outpouring of support for the former justice minister, who is now widely viewed as demoted for not bowing to Trudeau's wishes. That outpouring of support concerns me, however, because Wilson-Raybould did a poor job as the justice minister.
When Wilson-Raybould was appointed justice minister, she was given a mandate letter that included priorities such as medically assisted dying, reducing the use of solitary confinement, addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in incarceration and addressing gaps in services for the mentally ill and Indigenous people in the justice system.
During her time in office, she failed to accomplish many of the things in this letter.
Yes, Wilson-Raybould did champion a bill to create a process for medically-assisted dying. However, that legislation is already the subject of challenges before the courts in large part because it arguably doesn't address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Carter case. This case found that the ban on physician-assisted death was unconstitutional.
And yes, cannabis was legalized under Wilson-Raybould's auspices. Or at least, some cannabis was legalized for some people. Meanwhile, medical cannabis was then subject to taxes, sentences increased for certain cannabis-related offences, and access to legal cannabis became very difficult shortly after legalization.
Along with cannabis legalization, Wilson-Raybould brought in legislation that eliminated Charter protections for those accused of impaired driving offences. This, arguably, puts vulnerable people at risk of further interactions with police. It has also been the subject of criticism for the manner in which it will disproportionately affect Indigenous and racialized people.
Nothing in Wilson-Raybould's mandate letter suggested she overhaul the law in relation to alcohol-impaired driving. This appeared to be her own idea, and has been widely panned by defence lawyers and scholars for its unconstitutionality.
Wilson-Raybould sought to eliminate a right of cross-examination of police witnesses in criminal trials
In enacting legislation to deal with cannabis impairment specifically, Bill C-46 created a new presumption that the results of a Drug Recognition Evaluation test are now proof of impairment. This will negatively impact those who perform poorly on the test due to medical or mental health ailments.
Wilson-Raybould also established "per se" limits for impairment, meaning that people with certain blood THC concentrations will be guilty of new impaired driving offences. This despite the science connecting blood THC concentration to impairment largely suggesting there is no connection. This has already begun negatively impacting medical cannabis users.
Other legislation introduced by Wilson-Raybould, such as Bill C-51, reverses the disclosure obligation in criminal trial to an accused person and exposes that person to cross-examination by the complainant. This fundamentally undermines our entire concept of justice in this country.
In Bill C-75, Wilson-Raybould sought to eliminate a right of cross-examination of police witnesses in criminal trials, while also attempting to remove preliminary inquiries from most serious criminal cases and prohibiting peremptory challenges in jury trials.
Remember, too, that while the mandate letter directed Wilson-Raybould to put an end to solitary confinement, under her direction the Department of Justice defended several Charter challenges to the practice of solitary confinement. And when the overuse of this method was struck down by the courts, the Department of Justice filed an appeal and sought a stay of the order permitting them to continue to use solitary confinement while the appeal was pending.
Finally, Wilson-Raybould was supposed to oversee the creation and completion of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry that has occurred has been the subject of numerous scandals, with the resignations of several prominent figures, and timeline extensions well beyond the original two-year deadline. This means that justice and closure for those families, as well as an action plan to prevent further harm to Indigenous women and girls, was significantly delayed under Wilson-Raybould's watch.
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There are many reasons to be critical of a government that purported to influence the decisions made in a prosecution, which is supposed to be free from those types of influences. And if that was the case, it should be thoroughly investigated.
However, this allegation doesn't mean we should look back on Wilson-Raybould's legacy with wistful nostalgia. Until I know the full story, I will not be too quick to rehabilitate Wilson-Raybould in my mind, and I caution others against doing the same.
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