Louise McEwanThe introduction to a CBC interview with Hunter Tootoo, the Nunavut MP who voluntarily resigned his cabinet post and left the Liberal caucus, set the stage for a multifaceted scandal.

“The Hunter Tootoo story turned into a disaster. … What really happened? Was it alcoholism or an inappropriate relationship that sealed his fate? Who knew what and when? And when the crunch came, what was said between Tootoo and (Justin) Trudeau?” queried anchor Peter Mansbridge with deadly seriousness.

No doubt CBC was trying to reel in viewers with the sexual and political innuendo implied in its introduction. And in the days following, other media chimed in with the same tune. The Toronto Star reported, “The Prime Minister’s Office is not commenting on allegations about Hunter Tootoo’s fall from political grace.” The Globe and Mail proclaimed, “Hunter Tootoo’s messy love triangle helped spur resignation from cabinet.” The editorial concluded, “Mr. Tootoo’s confession appears to be an attempt to repair his tattered image so he can return to the Liberal caucus.”

But the CBC interview failed to deliver on its introductory points despite Mansbridge’s attempts to draw them out. Instead of revealing unsavoury facts about an inappropriate relationship or implicating the Prime Minister’s Office in a coverup, the interview delivered something quite different. The interview, which I thought was honest and real, showed that a man could be honourable in the face of his own unhappy and regrettable behaviour.

In Tootoo’s demeanour, I saw humility, sorrow and repentance. His responses to Mansbridge’s questions had the ring of truth. He appeared vulnerable, his voice occasionally wavering as he responded to questions about his past – a past he tried to ignore but that affected him deeply. He refused to elaborate on childhood abuse. He neither cast blame on others nor on a system that perpetrated injustice against Canada’s indigenous peoples. He made no excuses for himself, admitting, “My actions hurt people I care about and that care about me.”

Perhaps Tootoo’s motivation for laying bare his soul on national television was as base as the Globe surmised. Maybe his public confession was nothing more than a calculated move to regain a position of prestige and privilege. Somehow I doubt it. It seems more likely that the desire to heal, to become whole, prompted him to come clean and “sealed his fate.”

I wonder why we are reluctant to accept his disclosure of the past and its effects on his life at face value? Why, as Mansbridge described it, some of us will not “buy” the “old childhood trauma excuse” (trauma, incidentally, that Tootoo avoided discussing in any detail)?

For me, the Tootoo story cannot be reduced to “who knew what and when,” a “tattered image,” a “political fall from grace” or a “messy love triangle,” even if these elements may be present and make for a scandalous story. His public disclosure of personal failing deserves respect and consideration in the broader context of our flawed human nature.

This is the story of one man’s struggle to understand himself, to come to grips with a troubled past and transcend it. This is a story about hurting others and trying to set things right. This is a story about sin, contrition, forgiveness and redemption. In this, Tootoo’s experience is archetypal.

We aren’t too fond of admitting our sinfulness, apologizing for it and asking for forgiveness. When we look for ulterior motives or sensationalize someone’s tragedy and moral failure, we are, in effect, casting stones. And when we cast stones, we don’t have to look at ourselves.

Maybe that’s why some of us will have difficulty accepting Tootoo’s public confession at face value.

Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. 

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