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Email becomes human rights complaint against Deputy Premier Robinson

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Deputy Premier Eric Robinson is the subject of a Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaint for a comment he made in a November 22 email concerning "do-good white people."

Robinson apologized today.

"The work Osborne House does is important for our community, especially aboriginal women who are suffering from the generational effects of discrimination and exploitation," Robinson said in a statement released late this afternoon.

The complaint was outlined earlier this afternoon in a news release from Barbara Judt, CEO of Winnipeg women’s shelter Osborne House.

"Robinson thinks it is okay to attack women and, in fact, all white people who do not tow his line as "ignorant do gooders" and defends it by saying that the premier knows about his email and that he will not apologize or resign," Judt said in a statement earlier today.

"If that is true, it appears the premier has a double standard about taking action when it comes to men being insulted and demeaned by members of his caucus as opposed to when women and "white people" are the targets of the hate of his most senior MLA."

The matter goes back to last year when the province learned  that a city clothing store, The Foxy Shoppe, was holding a burlesque fundraiser with proceeds to Osborne House.

Nahanni Fontaine, special advisor on aboriginal women’s issues, fired an email to Robinson concerned the event would tarnish Osborne House and its executive, including Judt.

"This is SO bad and looks SO bad and is simply a bad idea on the part of the Osborne House ED (executive director)," Fontaine wrote to Robinson in a Nov. 22, 2012 email. "Like what was she thinking? Did the board approve this ‘fundraiser’"?

Robinson replied in a email two hours later, "I know nothing of this matter and haven’t seen today’s freep (Winnipeg Free Press) but I will now."

The remaining two sentences of Robinson’s email are blacked out.

However, clearly visible are the words: "On the surface it is not a very good idea and moreover further exploits an already vulnerable group in society. It also further demonstrates the ignorance of do good white people without giving it a second thought."

The emails form part of package of correspondence between the province and Osborne House that were obtain through a freedom of information request filed by Judt last Dec. 19. They were leaked to Winnipeg media outlets today.

Judt says Robinson’s comments are racist. In a media report, Robinson refused to apologize, saying the exchange was between him and Fontaine. Robinson, also the minister of aboriginal and northern affairs, was not immediately available today.

Judt’s office says she is on vacation until Aug. 29.

"It is important to note that neither Robinson nor his advisor, Nahanni Fontaine, have ever crossed our doorstep to see for themselves the caring services we provide to the aboriginal women they claim need protecting from our "ignorance"," Judt said in her statement.

"Osborne House has felt the wrath of intimidation from senior level bureaucrats this past fiscal year. We asked legitimate business related questions including why the Family Violence Prevention Program is demanding our volunteer board commit to taking on substantial personal debt instead of properly funding our operations and in return from government, we are the recipients of retaliation and bullying.

"This is exactly how our clients feel when they are in abusive relationships. Abusers pick away at their victims; nothing they do is right; they won’t engage in discussion to resolve things; they pick fights and then blame the victim for everything."

Meanwhile, Tory MLA Ron Schuler also said earlier today Robinson should apologize.

"It’s offensive to what the deputy premier said," Schular said. "There are all kinds of messages that can be read into that statement and he should apologize for it."

Robinson added "I did not mean to offend anyone with the words I used. I still feel the event was in poor taste and could have been better thought out, given the clientele of Osborne House are women who have been exploited and victimized. Upon further reflection and discussion with the Premier, the words I chose in the moment were regrettable, and for that I apologize."


Updated on Friday, August 23, 2013 at 3:01 PM CDT: Fixes typo in Tory MLA Ron Schuler's name.

4:50 PM: Robinson apologizes in a statement.

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