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Politics Trudeau cites ‘regret’ over Brazeau comments in Rolling Stone

Justin Trudeau, left, and Patrick Brazeau fight during their charity boxing match in Ottawa in 2012.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he regrets comments he made about Indigenous Senator Patrick Brazeau in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine that have been criticized by some as racist and demeaning.

Mr. Trudeau said Tuesday that his remarks, which related to a charity boxing match he fought five years ago with Mr. Brazeau, were characterized in an unfortunate manner, but they were also unhelpful to his government's ongoing efforts of reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous people.

"I regret the way it's been taken. I regret the choice of language that I made," the Prime Minister said during an interview with CBC Radio in Vancouver.

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Read more: Indigenous advocates slam Trudeau for comments about Patrick Brazeau

In the U.S. magazine's August cover story – which asks "Why Can't He Be Our President?" – Mr. Trudeau describes his surprise victory against Mr. Brazeau, a former national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

"I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled upon the scrappy tough-guy senator from an Indigenous community. He fit the bill, and it was a very nice counterpoint," Mr. Trudeau says in the article. "I saw it as the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell."

Mr. Brazeau has said he took Mr. Trudeau's comments in Rolling Stone as a compliment.

But First Nations leaders have said the Prime Minister's remarks about Mr. Brazeau fly in the face of his government's commitment to a renewed relationship with Indigenous people.

Cindy Blackstock, a First Nations children's advocate and social-work professor at McGill University, said they play into a narrative in which Indigenous peoples are savages and the non-Indigenous people are the civilized.

Roger Augustine, who represents New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island on the executive of the Assembly of First Nations, said he found Mr. Trudeau's description of Mr. Brazeau to be "demeaning."

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And Pam Palmater, an associate professor and chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University in Toronto, said she was shocked to hear those words coming from someone whose stated goal has been reconciliation and reparation and that she found Mr. Trudeau's comments "super-arrogant, super-racist" and "really disgusting."

Mr. Brazeau, who was appointed to the Senate in 2009 by Stephen Harper, sat as a Conservative until 2013, when he was facing assault charges and had become embroiled in an expense scandal. The boxing match of 2012 between Mr. Brazeau and Mr. Trudeau, who was not yet leader of the federal Liberals, was seen as a showdown between political parties as much as it was a fight between two young politicians.

Mr. Trudeau said during the radio interview that the boxing match was an opportunity to have fun and to raise money for cancer.

Since taking office in 2015, he said, his government has been trying to change long-standing patterns of engagement with Indigenous people and he recognizes that true reconciliation involves changing approaches and mindsets.

The remark he made about Mr. Brazeau "doesn't contribute to the positive spirit of reconciliation," Mr. Trudeau said. "So I regret those comments and the way it was characterized."

With files from Laura Stone.

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