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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: My truth — and its consequences

Jody Wilson-Raybould is shown in a SaltWire file photo during funding announcement in St. John’s. N.L. in late 2017 when she was still Attorney General.
Jody Wilson-Raybould is shown during a funding announcement in St. John’s in late 2017 when she was still attorney general. — SaltWire File Photo

It’s been troubling me for months.

Let me point out first that in the great SNC-Lavalin controversy, I certainly don’t side in any way with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and officials with the Prime Minister’s Office. I believe they did put then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould under unusual pressure over the decision not to give the Quebec engineering and project management company a deal over charges of bribing Libyan officials.

But, that being said, I am troubled by one aspect of Wilson-Raybould’s position.

On Feb. 20, back before she appeared before the parliamentary justice committee, Wilson-Raybould stood in the House of Commons and let the Canadian people know that she had something to say, and wanted to say it.

Here’s what she said: “I understand fully that Canadians want to know the truth and want transparency. … Privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive, and I hope that I have the opportunity to speak my truth.”

Wilson-Raybould is a lawyer, and obviously understands the strength and power of language, and, as part of that, the need for precision. She also clearly knew and thought about what she was going to say in the House of Commons — and exactly how she was going to say it.

And she chose to say “my truth.”

She didn’t say “my version of events.” She didn’t say she wanted to fully air her concerns about the process and the actions of government officials.

Years ago, I had an editor who used to work me over regularly for letting people get away with half-answering questions. He used to say to me that the most dangerous thing for a reporter to do is to accept “weasel-words” from an interviewee: if you asked a question and get a prevaricating answer, ask the question again. And again.

Since then, I’ve started to notice the concept of “my truth” gaining traction, particularly on social media. In some ways, it may just be a trendy way of saying “my values” or even just a version of “believe in yourself.”

But it fundamentally devalues the concept of what truth actually is.

Dividing things up into “my truth” and “your truth” suggests that the concept of truth is malleable — that my truth and your truth could be critically different, but both could still somehow be described as equally “true.”

They can’t — when there are different versions of what has happened in a particular situation, there is still one truth: what actually happened. It might be one person’s account, it might be someone else’s belief about what happened, and more often than not, it’s somewhere in the middle.

Dividing things up into “my truth” and “your truth” suggests that the concept of truth is malleable.

Consider how different it would be in court, for example, if instead of swearing to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” you instead promised to tell “my truth.”

As I said at the beginning of this column, I’m not questioning the very real issues that Wilson-Raybould has raised about the actions of the government she used to be a member of.

But these are already dark days for accuracy and truth; election campaigns in the United States have shown that politicians are no longer punished for lying, and that message has been received loud and clear by federal parties in time for this fall’s federal election.

And that’s dangerous for us all.

There is no “my truth,” nor is there “your truth”: there is the truth, and then are personal opinions of what took place. When truth comes in a myriad of different and still acceptable versions, it isn’t really truth at all.

Oh, and that’s not “my truth” on the matter.

It’s just my opinion.

There is a difference.

Recent columns by this author
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Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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