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On groping allegation, Trudeau ducks the rules he set

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2018-06-28

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly sworn-in cabinet ministers arrive on Parliament Hill l in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2015. The prime minister’s cabinet was the first in Canadian history with equal numbers of men and women. When asked why it was important to give half the cabinet posts to women, Trudeau said: “Because it is 2015.” A self-styled feminist, Trudeau owes Canadians an explanation of a groping allegation made against him 18 years ago, Tim Harper writes. © Justin Tang Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly sworn-in cabinet ministers arrive on Parliament Hill l in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2015. The prime minister’s cabinet was the first in Canadian history with equal numbers of men and women. When asked why it was important to give half the cabinet posts to women, Trudeau said: “Because it is 2015.” A self-styled feminist, Trudeau owes Canadians an explanation of a groping allegation made against him 18 years ago, Tim Harper writes.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

We live in an era of zero tolerance and lightning quick justice where careers can be crushed in the time it takes to finish morning coffee.

There is no statute of limitations and denials can simply feed the fire. Things move in warp speed.

So why has a groping allegation against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unspooled in such slow motion?

The prime minister’s laconic response to this, the ‘I can’t remember, so it’ll go away,’ posture has only invited greater scrutiny.

But something appears to have happened, and the way Trudeau has responded is too much 2000 and not enough 2018. This is especially troubling coming from him because he is breaking rules he has set himself.

This much is known.

Trudeau, then a school teacher known best as the son of a former prime minister, attended a beer-fuelled festival in Creston, B.C., in August 2000 and pictures of the then 28-year-old future prime minister showed he was having a heck of a good time.

He is alleged to have groped a reporter from the Creston Valley Advance who was also reporting for the Vancouver Sun and the National Post.

The woman was sufficiently distressed that she penned an editorial in her local paper. It began with what she characterized as an apology from Trudeau: “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper I would never have been so forward.”

That response from Trudeau, if true, could not be more tone deaf. It implies that had she been just a small town note-taker, Trudeau might have seen things differently.

And there the story apparently stopped until it was resurrected by Frank, an Ottawa-based satirical magazine.

Thursday, Trudeau’s office issued the same statement it has been providing to inquiring reporters since the editorial resurfaced: “As the prime minister has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect. His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill, and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful.

“He remembers being in Creston for the Avalanche Foundation, but doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.’’

It’s true that these allegations have been promoted by some hostile to Trudeau — but they didn’t invent them. Yes, they were first published in media outlets that would be perceived to be unfriendly to the prime minister, yet the best reporting on the matter has been done by the National Post. The piece was eminently fair.

Chasing an 18-year-old allegation from a woman who, quite reasonably, doesn’t want to talk about it takes some journalistic diligence if all facts are to be fairly reported.

That takes time.

There is no evidence that the media was protecting Trudeau, as has been alleged, certainly not if the number of journalists calling the Creston newspaper is any indication.

The Star’s attempts to interview the journalist in question and her editor at the time have so far been unsuccessful.

There was no sudden torrent of other allegations, as is often the case, giving the story instant oxygen. Without evidence to the contrary, the media was left with no indication of any pattern of such behaviour from the prime minister.

It is possible Trudeau legitimately doesn’t remember, or that he thinks he did nothing wrong, but that appears unlikely because he has never denied the “apology,” as published by the woman.

And when your name is Trudeau, there is always a power dynamic at play, whether you are a schoolteacher or the prime minister.

We must believe this woman. Trudeau has told us that must be the default position when such allegations come to light.

Former Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews learned that lesson.

So did former Liberal cabinet ministers Hunter Tootoo and Kent Hehr.

New Democrats Christine Moore and Erin Weir learned as well.

This is not to place all these stories on the same plane, but the common thread is all paid a price (Moore is under investigation) because of an overdue intolerance for inappropriate behaviour.

Trudeau set that tone.

Right now, we are left with a ‘she said, he said,’ 18 years later.

She has the right to remain silent.

He is the prime minister, a self-styled feminist who has acted decisively and quickly when other such allegations have been raised about caucus and cabinet ministers.

He owes the country more clarity than a statement from his office.

It comes with the job.

And because it’s 2018.

Tim Harper is a former Star reporter who is a current freelance columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @nutgraf1

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