“I acknowledge Wolverine, and I am sorry to hear that he is not doing well”
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she will look into a call for an inquiry into the 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff, but the issue is not a top priority.
Wilson-Raybould, who is also the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Granville and Canada’s first aboriginal minister, delivered her first official speech since being appointed justice minister at Simon Fraser University’s Woodward campus on Saturday in downtown Vancouver.
After her speech, she said she’d received a letter about the Gustafsen standoff but noted that the ministry has several mandates that must take precedent, including the missing women inquiry, one of several Liberal campaign pledges.
“Without question the inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls that we are collectively going to form together is a top priority for our government,” she said.
Several First Nation protesters were at the speech Saturday, renewing calls for an inquiry into the Ts’Peten, or Gustafsen Lake, standoff, a 31-day confrontation between RCMP and First Nations protesters occupying land near 100 Mile House. The standoff led to Mounties firing thousands of rounds of ammunition at the protesters.
One of the leaders at the standoff, William Jones Ignace, also known as Wolverine, sent a letter earlier this month to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, calling for an inquiry into the use of force. Ignace, now 83, is ill, and a family member spoke on his behalf to ask the minister if she would consider his plea.
“I acknowledge Wolverine, and I am sorry to hear that he is not doing well,” said Wilson-Raybould, adding that she had received his letter and “will look into that.”
“As you know all the ministers have been given very public mandate letters and I think that is really important … so looking at the priorities that we can and must do right now, physician-assisted dying one of them, we need to plan how to address our priorities,” she told a packed theatre Saturday.
She said it takes times to build trust, and she believes that proceeding with the missing women inquiry will open up the conversation to address other aboriginal issues that need to be examined.
In his letter, Ignace said RCMP fired “an astonishing 77,000 rounds of ammunition” at protesters. He said police shot at unarmed people and at people in negotiated no-shoot zones.
He said the incident remains “one of the largest stains” on relations between indigenous nations and the Canadian government.
The Gustafsen Lake standoff began on August 18, 1995, and ended on September 17, 1995. The RCMP operation involved 400 police officers and support from the Canadian military. The aboriginal occupiers believed that the privately owned ranch land was a sacred space and part of unceded Shuswap territory.
Meanwhile, Wilson-Raybould also responded to calls last week that the missing and murdered women inquiry be extended to include men. She said they need to ensure that all voices are heard, and men will be a part of that but for now there is a “necessary focus” on the tragedy of the missing and murdered indigenous women.
The scope of the inquiry has not yet been established.