Sunday 22 May 2016

Elbowgate: Trudeau says sorry for manhandling opposition

Canadian PM will accept any punishment for 'elbowgate' and grabbing a lawmaker's arm
The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

OTTAWA • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under fire over an unprecedented physical fracas in Parliament, said he was only human and apologised for a third time for manhandling an opposition legislator and accidentally elbowing another in Parliament.

Mr Trudeau, who led his Liberals to power last October with a promise of "sunny ways", said he was in a high-pressure job, but promised there would be no repeat of his actions. He said he would accept any punishment meted out by a committee examining the incident which took place on Wednesday.

"I think people understand that there is a tremendous amount of pressures that come with this job and I am human," Mr Trudeau, 44, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. "But I think, at the same time, a big part of recognising strengths and weaknesses is when you make a mistake, you admit it, you make amends, you ask for forgiveness and you make sure it never happens again."

The affair was a rare public loss of control for Mr Trudeau. Telegenic and tattooed, he has gained a rock star level of celebrity, thanks partly to an avowed feminist stance, and he is often swarmed by fans seeking selfies.

Mr Trudeau is in no immediate political danger since the next election is not due until October 2019 and opinion polls put him far ahead of his rivals.

"It was my mistake, it was unbecoming of any member of this House. I expect better from myself," a contrite Mr Trudeau told the legislature on Thursday, adding that he wanted to make amends. "I wield full responsibility for my poor choices last night and I ask for Canadians' understanding and forgiveness."

During preparations for a Wednesday evening vote, Mr Trudeau, irritated by what he saw as delaying tactics by the opposition, strode across the floor and grabbed a legislator by the arm before pushing him towards his seat.

In the process, he accidentally elbowed New Democratic Party (NDP) MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest and later got into a heated exchange with an opposition leader.

NDP legislator Tracey Ramsey said the Prime Minister swore as he approached opposition whip Gord Brown and the opposition benches. She added: "He said, 'Get the bleep out of the way.'"

Sources told Canada's CBC News that Mr Trudeau had used the F-word, which decades earlier landed his Prime Minister father Pierre Trudeau in hot water in the same House of Commons

After the incident, Mr Trudeau again crossed the floor and engaged in a loud and heated conversation with NDP leader Tom Mulcair.

"What kind of man elbows a woman? It's pathetic! You're pathetic!" Mr Mulcair can be heard on tape shouting at Mr Trudeau.

While mild compared with the brawls between legislators in Taiwan, Japan and Ukraine, the incident was rare in Canadian politics. Photographs of the fracas were splashed across front pages with unflattering headlines, such as "Mad House" and "Hair Trigger", and gleefully dissected on Twitter with the hashtag #elbowgate.

"There is not a parallel in contemporary Canadian history. We hear about members becoming physical in other countries but that is not Canada," CBC quoted NDP House Leader Peter Julian as saying later as MPs raised points of privilege after the vote.

Conservative MP Peter Van Loan said it was an "extraordinary example of physical intimidation".

He said: "I witnessed as (Trudeau) strode across the floor with an anger fierce, in his face and eyes."


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