Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett is apologizing after what she describes as an “inappropriate” comment aimed at Jody Wilson-Raybould after the latter tweeted about her horror at the discovery of more unmarked residential school graves while also calling for there not to be an imminent election.
In a tweet posted Thursday morning, Bennett said she apologized to Wilson-Raybould, the Independent MP for Vancouver-Granville who is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation in B.C.
“I let interpersonal dynamics get the better of me and sent an insensitive and inappropriate comment, which I deeply regret and shouldn’t have done,” Bennett said in the tweet.
Wilson-Raybould quit the Liberal cabinet in 2019 amid an explosive public row in which she accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin court case. The federal ethics commissioner shared that assessment in a subsequent review of the scandal.
Bennett’s apology came after Wilson-Raybould tweeted a screenshot of a text she said Bennett sent her in which the cabinet minister quoted a tweet sent by Wilson-Raybould on Wednesday.
In the Wednesday tweet, Wilson-Raybould had expressed her horror at the news out of Saskatchewan that the remains of hundreds more bodies had been found at the site of a former residential school. On Thursday, Indigenous leaders confirmed there are an estimated 751 unmarked graves at the site.
Wilson-Raybould also included in that Wednesday tweet a call for Trudeau to stop his “selfish jockeying for an election” and focus on delivering “transformative action” for Indigenous people.
Bennett cited that tweet with the comment: “Pension?”
Wilson-Raybould called the comment by Bennett “racist and misogynist.”
She said it both shows disdain for the experiences of Indigenous people and reflects the “notion that Indigenous people are lazy and only want (money).”
“I think that we should all take pause, that we have a minister of Crown-Indigenous relations whose instinctive response is what she said to me over a text message,” Wilson Raybould said Thursday in an interview with Global News.
“I am not shy to call out systemic racism where it exists.”
She said she had not previously received a text from Bennett since 2018, and what happens next with Bennett is up to Trudeau to decide.
Members of Parliament are eligible for pensions after serving for six years. The pensions are worth a percentage of what the individual made while holding public office and can reach up to 75 per cent depending on the length of their time in office.
Wilson-Raybould is among the dozens of MPs from multiple parties who were first elected in the October 2015 federal election and who will fall just short of the eligibility for a federal government pension if an election is called before October 2021.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan on Wednesday described the horrific discovery as “the most significantly substantial to date in Canada.”
Marieval Indian Residential School operated between 1899 and 1997.
It was located about 140 kilometres east of Regina.
According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation records, the school was constructed by Roman Catholic missionaries. The federal government started funding the school in 1901.
The national centre’s public records list eight student deaths.
The announcement comes just weeks after the horrific discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Horror at that discovery has dominated the conversation in Ottawa from all political parties in recent weeks, with pressure mounting on the government to do more to support Indigenous communities who want to search the sites of former residential schools for unmarked graves.
Thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend the schools, which the government used as a systemic means of trying to assimilate them into European culture and Christianity.
But the schools were the site of horrific abuse and routinely saw Indigenous children subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, with large numbers dying or disappearing. A lack of detailed records as well as secrecy by the churches that ran the schools has meant many families who lost children to the schools have never been able to get the answers they deserve about what happened.
-With files from Marc-André Cossette