Is Justin Trudeau telling the truth about an alleged groping incident with a female reporter 18 years ago, or is the prime minister lying through his teeth?
Yes, that’s a harsh way of laying it out. But there’s no point in sugarcoating this unusual story any longer, as some media organizations were doing up until recently.
Here’s what we know thus far:
Trudeau arrived in Creston, B.C., in August 2000 to attend the Kokanee Summit Festival. This small town is in the southeastern Kootenay region, 10 kilometres north of the U.S. border. It has a population of 5,306, an economy focused on agriculture and forestry – and, amusingly, doesn’t observe daylight savings time.
Trudeau was 28 years old. It would be another five years before he married his wife, Sophie. It would be another eight years before he became a Liberal MP, 13 years before he became party leader, and 15 years before he became Canada’s 23rd prime minister.
Nevertheless, one would assume he was starting to think about following in the footsteps of his famous father (Pierre Trudeau, who passed away a month later). If so, it would have been crucial to avoid any potential controversies that could one day haunt him.
That’s the working theory, anyway.
But according to an Aug. 14, 2000, editorial in the Creston Valley Advance, Trudeau reportedly groped a female reporter in an inappropriate manner at this festival. (She was also on assignment for the National Post and Vancouver Sun.) When confronted, he apologized for “handling” the reporter and reportedly said, “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”
If this statement is accurate, would the actions have been acceptable if she was only on assignment for a local paper like the Advance? Or if she was a woman simply attending the festival with family and friends?
Regardless, this stunning editorial, which would have destroyed most potential or existing political careers in a nanosecond, never made any waves in the Canadian media. The sands of time buried it, and the eyes and ears of political opponents didn’t unearth it.
That is, until Frank Magazine republished the story in April. Few caught wind of it. Most people don’t read the satirical publication’s print version and its online content is often hidden behind a subscriber wall.
When political commentator Warren Kinsella posted the editorial on his website on June 6 with the line, “Um, what?” and the hashtag #MeToo, that changed the narrative. Kinsella reportedly received this tip from “a Canadian member of Parliament who requested anonymity.”
The groping incident has since received extensive domestic and international news coverage. A former Advance publisher and an editor have acknowledged the story, and both believe this version. The now former reporter doesn’t want to reveal her identity, and may have even written the editorial (although that’s still unconfirmed).
Trudeau, for his part, has followed the lead of a crafted statement from the prime minister’s office. “As the PM has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect. His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill, and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful. He remembers being in Creston for the Avalanche Foundation, but doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”
Doesn’t “think?” Shouldn’t he know? For a prime minister who has repeatedly touted a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment, this language unacceptable. As the CBC’s Robyn Urback wrote on June 27, Trudeau “helped … create the very climate to which he is now vulnerable.”
Most of us don’t know what happened 18 years ago. Nevertheless, the public now wants an answer – and this incident, either real or imaginary, needs some form of closure.
Whether that will ever occur is another story.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.