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Politics Trudeau apologizes after being accused of manhandling, elbowing MPs

Stills from a CPAC video taken of a scuffle involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inside the House of Commons on May 18.

CPAC

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on Wednesday after being accused of manhandling a Conservative MP and elbowing an NDP MP in the chest in an effort to speed up a vote on the floor of the House of Commons.

It is believed to be the first such physical fracas involving a prime minister in the Commons, an incident the opposition immediately condemned.

The Commons speaker, Liberal MP Geoff Regan, admonished Mr. Trudeau for his behaviour.

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"It is not appropriate to manhandle other members," Mr. Regan said in the Commons later.

The incident began on Wednesday evening as MPs were called back to the House for a vote to limit debate time on Bill C-14, the government's legislation on doctor-assisted dying – a major point of contention for the Liberals, who are trying to pass it by June 6. Tensions rose on Wednesday when the Liberals signalled an intent to move a motion that would allow the cabinet to take control of the House of Commons schedule.

Video from the House of Commons shows New Democrat MPs gathered in the aisle as Conservative whip Gordon Brown stood waiting behind them. Mr. Brown needed to be in his place for the vote to begin. Mr. Trudeau strode quickly across the aisle and pulled Mr. Brown forward past the NDP group, which included leader Tom Mulcair, at the same time elbowing NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau behind him. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair then began shouting at each other as MPs gathered around.

Ms. Brosseau appeared shaken by the incident, and left the House shortly afterward before returning to address her colleagues about why she missed the vote.

"I was elbowed in the chest by the Prime Minister … and then I had to leave," she told the Commons. "It was very overwhelming."

Mr. Trudeau apologized to Ms. Brosseau for what he called his "unacceptable" behaviour.

"I want to take the opportunity now … to express directly to her my apologies for my behaviour and my actions, unreservedly," Mr. Trudeau said.

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"I look for opportunities to make amends directly to the member and to any members who feel negatively impacted by this exchange and intervention, because I take responsibility."

Mr. Regan has concluded there was a prima facie case that Brosseau's privileges as an MP had been breached, which means the encounter will be examined by an all-party committee.

The Prime Minister told the Commons he went over to help Mr. Brown through a "gaggle of MPs" who were impeding his progress down the aisle so the House could get on with the vote. He said he did not intend to hurt anyone.

"I admit that I came in physical contact with a number of members as I extended my arm, including someone behind me whom I did not see. I certainly did not intend to offend or impact on anyone," he said.

Mr. Brown said later in a statement that he told the Prime Minister to "let go of me – now. ‎Immediately afterward, the Prime Minister went back down the aisle of the House to confront other Members of Opposition parties. I later told the Prime Minister he should NOT have gotten out of his seat."

Liberal MP Judy Foote told reporters that "there is nothing intentional that happened here."

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The Conservatives and the NDP want the incident referred to a parliamentary committee that deals with the privileges of Members of Parliament.

Outside the Commons, Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer called Mr. Trudeau's behaviour "very unstatesmanlike."

"It seemed to me that he lost his temper, that things weren't progressing as fast as he would like it to," he said.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian told the Commons that in 12 years on Parliament Hill, he had never seen anything like it.

"Physical force in this House is never permitted, it's never welcome and it is entirely inappropriate," he said.

NDP MP Tracey Ramsey said she was "shaken by the events" and what happened to her seatmate, Ms. Brosseau.

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"As [Mr. Trudeau] was entering a small circle of us who were standing there, he swore and said, 'Get the bleep out of the way,' and he pushed his way into the circle we were standing in, he grabbed [Mr. Brown] dragged him out and so doing he elbowed my colleague [Ms. Brousseau] quite viciously. She was very physically hurt," Ms. Ramsey said.

Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said Mr. Trudeau acted like "a frustrated boxer" as he dashed across the aisle.

"I have never seen anything like this in my 40 years in politics," Mr. Deltell told the House. "It was utterly undignified, utterly unacceptable for any parliamentarian."

NDP MP Niki Ashton cast doubt on Mr. Trudeau's feminist credentials, saying the incident made women feel unsafe in the Commons.

"Not only was this the furthest thing from a feminist act, this act, in and of itself, made … any woman, anybody who sits in this House, feel unsafe and deeply troubled by the conduct of the Prime Minister of this country," she said.

Mr. Trudeau left Parliament Hill on Wednesday without taking questions from reporters, although he said in French there will be time to talk at a later date.

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Mr. Trudeau attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Ottawa this morning, where he made no mention of the incident in the Commons as he read from Romans 3.

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud...live in peace with everyone," Trudeau said.

He was joined at the head table by Conservative interim Leader Rona Ambrose, the Speakers of the Commons and Senate, NDP MP Daniel Blaikie and Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown.

After the prayer breakfast, Mr. Trudeau was escorted out by RCMP security officers when he ran into Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. He embraced her in a hug and Ms. May urged him to withdraw a motion that led to the fracas in the House.

"I told him to withdraw motion 6," Ms. May told The Globe. "It is a really draconian and anti-democratic measure that the Conservatives had perfected."

She said the Prime Minister did not made any comment on her suggestion before he was whisked away by his security details.

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With reports from Robert Fife and Michelle Zilio

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