UPDATE: After publication of this article, Justin Trudeau addressed several of the concerns it raises. Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on July 5, the PM said that he believes that he did not act inappropriately toward the unnamed woman in 2000, but acknowledges she may have experienced the interaction differently. See Trudeau’s full statement here.
The woman who accused Trudeau of handling her inappropriately “reluctantly” broke her silence on July 6 in a statement confirming that the incident did happen, Trudeau did apologize the next day and she does not wish to pursue the this further. The former journalist asks for privacy and that she not be associated with further coverage of the story.
Self-proclaimed feminist Justin Trudeau has been very vocal about his zero-tolerance policy against sexual assault and has been an activist for women’s rights since beginning his political career, suspending two MPs from the Liberal caucus in 2014 after allegations surfaced about sexual misconduct and publicly stating that his firm stance against sexual violence applies to everyone—even himself. But while he was visiting Regina on Canada Day, our PM found himself in the hot seat when a reporter asked him about a claim that he groped a young female reporter at a music festival in British Columbia back in 2000.
The sexual misconduct allegations first surfaced in the days following the festival, when a community newspaper, the Creston Valley Advance, published an unsigned editorial accusing Trudeau of “groping” and “inappropriately handling” a young female reporter who was covering the Kokanee Summit festival in Creston, B.C. The editorial did not go into much detail, but it did say that the woman felt “blatantly disrespected” by his actions. (Then a 28-year-old teacher, Trudeau was attending the event in honour of his late brother, Michel, who passed away in an avalanche in 1998.)
But Trudeau didn’t directly address the allegations until this weekend at an event for steel and aluminum workers in Western Canada—and his response left a lot to be desired. “I remember that day in Creston well,” he told reporters. “I had a good day that day; I don’t remember any negative interactions that day at all.”
However, Valerie Bourne, a former publisher of the Creston Valley Advance, vividly recalls the days following the event, when a female reporter in her early 20s visited her office to tell her about an “unsettling” encounter with Trudeau. “She came to me just because she was distressed,” Bourne said in an interview with the National Post. Brian Bell, the editor of the Advance at the time, also remembers the incident. He told the CBC that Trudeau’s alleged actions were “definitely not welcome and definitely inappropriate.” He went on to say that, “there’s no question in [his] mind that what was alluded to, written about in that editorial, did happen.” What’s more, the original editorial suggested that Trudeau apologized to the unnamed female reporter following the incident, allegedly telling her that if he had known that she was reporting for a national newspaper, he would not have “been so forward.” Hold our maple syrup—you’d think he’d remember that.
But even if we give Trudeau the benefit of the doubt and believe that he didn’t see the Advance article back in 2000, we definitely don’t buy that he missed it earlier this year, when the article was republished in April 2018 by Frank, a political gossip and satire magazine. Or when Warren Kinsella, a law professor and frequent critic of Trudeau, posted photos of the original editorial on Twitter at the beginning of June with the hashtag #MeToo.
And that’s what turns this story into a major red flag. During his time as PM, Trudeau has been vocal about his work on the women’s rights front and has said it’s “essential” that women are believed when they go public with their experiences of sexual harassment or assault. “The first instinct… needs to be supporting and believing,” he said in a January 2018 interview with CBC Radio that touched on the #MeToo movement. But saying you “don’t remember” groping a woman is no better than saying “it never happened” or “she’s lying.” It perpetuates the exact problem Trudeau says he’s trying to fight: that women are often not believed when they come forward.
So, if Trudeau is going to continue to enforce his own zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct and assault, we suggest he do some explaining, because his response is not only difficult to believe, it’s downright insulting to his alleged victim, Canadian women at large—and everything he claims to stand for.
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