Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he does not believe he acted inappropriately at a B.C. music festival 18 years ago, but that he understands the woman he’s alleged to have groped might have seen things differently.
The allegations were made in an unsigned editorial published by the Creston Valley Advance, a B.C. community newspaper, on Aug. 14, 2000. The editorial, which came to public attention on social media last month, suggested the then-28-year-old Mr. Trudeau had inappropriately handled a young, female reporter at the Kokanee Summit festival. Mr. Trudeau was a teacher at the time and had not yet entered politics.
Mr. Trudeau said last weekend he remembered the festival, but did not think anything “negative” happened that day. Speaking to reporters in Toronto on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau said he had reflected on the incident further and understands that the woman involved might have a different view of what happened.
He did acknowledge that he apologized at the time, with the editorial quoting him as saying he was sorry for being “so forward.”
“I’m responsible for my side of the interaction, which certainly, as I said, I don’t feel was in any way untoward,” Mr. Trudeau said at the news conference.
“But at the same time, this lesson that we are learning – and I’ll be blunt about it – often a man experiences an interaction as being benign or not inappropriate, and a woman, particularly in a professional context, can experience it differently.”
The Prime Minister has made feminism an important piece of his political brand since coming to office almost three years ago. He named an equal number of men and women to his first cabinet, and he extols the benefits of female leadership when he speaks at international summits.
He has also taken a hard line when members of the Liberal caucus have been accused of sexual misconduct. In 2014, he removed two members of Parliament, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, from the Liberal caucus after other MPs alleged the two men had sexually harassed them. Earlier this year, Calgary MP Kent Hehr resigned from cabinet after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him. Mr. Hehr remains a member of the Liberal caucus.
Opposition politicians say Mr. Trudeau has not treated the allegations against himself as seriously as those levelled against other people.
“[The reporter] doesn’t have to come forward if she doesn’t want to. The account however, is in the public record, and the Prime Minister isn’t abiding by his own framework set for these situations,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said in a Twitter post.
The Prime Minister said Thursday the discussion around this incident was part of the broader lessons that can be learned from the #MeToo movement, which has sought to bring to light incidents of sexual harassment that have been hidden for years.
“But part of this awakening that we are having as a society – a long-awaited realization – is that it’s not just one side of the story that matters,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Trudeau did not elaborate on what happened. He dismissed a call for an independent investigation into the incident.
Mr. Trudeau said neither he nor his staff have reached out to the woman, and he did not think it would be appropriate to do so.
The Globe and Mail has corresponded with the woman, who said she does not want to be identified, does not want to be contacted by media and does not want to comment on the allegations made 18 years ago.
With a report from Wendy Stueck in Vancouver