A letter to the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould

A letter to the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Posted on March 27, 2019 | Unpublished Admin | Written on February 19, 2019
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Author's Note:

Author's Note:

This is a personal letter from Naomi Sayers Ozaawaagiizis’okwe shared with Canadians. 

Dear Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C.

It’s been just over three years since I wrote my first open letter to you. You were named Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. You were the first Indigenous person to hold such a title. I remember that day clearly. I sat in the back of my laws of evidence class and as the news poured in, I struggled to hold back tears of joy. Immediately after class ended, I went home to cry and pray. Today, I am now a recently called lawyer with barely a fraction of your experience. In the past few weeks, you were moved to a different portfolio. Some people called it a demotion. You saw the new role as a “great honour.” Shortly after, news broke that the Prime Minister’s Office attempted to press you to intervene in a current prosecution of a major corporation.

I know you do not need my words of support but I want you to know that you still give me hope, as an Indigenous woman and most certainly, as an Indigenous lawyer. For other people like me, especially in the face of public degradation of your work ethic by unnamed individuals, you continue to remain an inspiration for all. And, while we may not be the same, we are somewhat similar in what you are experiencing today.

Integrity

Integrity is a word that is rarely talked about and if you asked someone what integrity means to them, some people might draw a blank. Growing up, I was taught that bravery was one of the seven grandfather teachings, and to be brave is to show integrity—to do what is right despite the consequences, good or bad. I still believe in this teaching today as an Indigenous woman.

For lawyers, however, to have integrity is to also have good character, a requirement for all licensed lawyers. And, for me, in particular, this is why you continue to inspire me.

From June 2017 until February 2018, I was under a good character investigation by my regulator, the Law Society of Ontario. I was under this investigation after my own self-disclosures, as required by the lawyer licensing process, and in my own desire to be honest in my application to become a lawyer licensing candidate. I note, however, that not all lawyer licensing candidates undergo a good character investigation. During those nearly nine months of an investigation, I was advised not to discuss the investigation until I was called to the bar. The investigation closed on February 28, 2018 and I was called to the bar in June 2018. I was greatly impacted by the investigation, mentally, emotionally and financially. Currently, the head of my regulator says he is committed to working on several initiatives including initiatives that relate to equity, diversity and inclusion, and Reconciliation. This is similar to the self-proclaimed feminist Prime Minister and his laudable goals for Reconciliation.

While you may not be able to speak, or say the things in order to defend yourself publicly, I know that many have done so to date even if some of them disagree with your politics. This is why I write this letter.

What is happening in the public domain is a sad state of affairs from a political party that I have supported since my first vote. I am saddened that the Prime Minister and/or his office has chosen to take a particular negative approach to allegations that his office attempted to press you to intervene in a prosecution. His office's approach is particularly toxic and manipulative but it is also one in which you are significantly limited, professionally, from defending yourself. As an Indigenous woman who tries to live by the seven grandfather teachings, especially bravery, it makes me sick to my stomach.

I know that you have good people in your corner, especially as your dad defends your integrity in the public sphere. But just like you, I also had a father who would have also defended my integrity even if in private and in his own way during my good character investigation. My dad was very private but he was also traditional, similar to your father. In response to the Law Society of Ontario’s investigation into my good character, I outlined all the barriers I overcame. I had to explain why I had integrity in light of overcoming these barriers. In essence, I had to defend why my own traditional way of being, as dictated through my cultural practices, could meet the threshold for being a lawyer in a colonial legal system. You might ask why I am sharing this story. I share this story to show that, despite the years of experience distancing us, I understand what you are going through, even if on a less significant scale and that I wholeheartedly support you.

In light of the above, I want to share an excerpt of my response to the Law Society of Ontario’s investigation into my good character:

As an Indigenous woman coming from a marginalized and vulnerable background who has worked hard to overcome systemic and institutional barriers, and with hopes to advocate for others, my history of contact with police has informed my good character today. My life experiences, as detailed in part above, are not unique. My experiences represent how systems and institutions impact Indigenous people’s lives. All of my experiences, both good and bad, inform my good character today.

I believe good character to be the ability exercise good judgment, personally and professionally. My experiences with the criminal justice system have impacted me deeply, and informed the empathy I have for others subject to the criminal law of Canada.

I believe that good character, in respect to the practice of law, is a function of honesty. It means to be of strong moral character, an understanding of right and wrong, and the ethical obligations that come with being a lawyer. It means doing the right thing, no matter what, including the personal and professional costs that might follow.

Regardless of the impacts of the Law Society of Ontario's investigation on me to this day and regardless of trying to live with bravery/integrity since being a young Indigenous person despite all the barriers I experienced/experience, I believe in living with bravery and integrity is important. Your actions over the last few days, which speak volumes on their own, only make being a young Indigenous lawyer even more of a privilege. It is not a privilege because only a select few can be a lawyer; it is a privilege because Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, continue to live with integrity, as we have always done. If someone wonders what integrity is today, I hope they think of you. I know I will.

While you may have formerly prosecuted people like me, we are somewhat similar in the things we have experienced. From our fathers, to our communities and now, to our strong commitment to integrity. You have worked hard to get where you are and I know that you will continue to exemplify integrity because you are also an Indigenous woman that comes from a long line of ancestors that demonstrated integrity, long before reference to any colonial legal system.

You will always be an inspiration for me. I am forever grateful for Indigenous women like you who make way for others. In the end, it is a shame that the Prime Minister and his office continues to act without integrity in the face of these allegations.

Miigwetch/Thank you for everything,

Naomi Sayers Ozaawaagiizis’okwe

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