Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chrétien glad to drink to 'Shawinigan Handshake'

Beer commemorates infamous choking incident

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QUEBEC -- The infamous chokehold Jean Chrétien put on a protester 16 years ago -- dubbed the Shawinigan Handshake -- has been immortalized on a beer bottle.

A small microbrewery in Chretien's birthplace of Shawinigan, Que., recently bottled a beer called the Shawinigan Handshake at the former prime minister's request.

Isaac Tremblay, co-owner of the brewery Le Trou du diable, said he had a secret dream of drinking a draft Shawinigan Handshake with Chrétien ever since his team created the strong German-style beer three years ago.

"And one day last fall, I walked into the bar and there was Mr. Chrétien, sipping a Shawinigan Handshake," Tremblay said. The two talked and Chrétien expressed his interest in getting a pack of the beer paying tribute to a moment in Canadian history.

"He liked the idea and thought it was funny," Tremblay said, adding Chrétien wanted to treat his friends with the Shawinigan Handshake.

At the time, the beer was sold only in draft during an Octoberfest at the brewery's bar.

But Chrétien insisted and Tremblay eventually bottled the Shawinigan Handshake with a label showing Chrétien choking the devil. Montreal illustrator Dominic Philibert created the drawing.

"Mr. Chrétien is known for his funny personality and he has made fun of this incident in the past," Tremblay said, noting he appreciates the politician's endorsement of his beer.

But the man who received Chrétien's Shawinigan Handshake doesn't find it nearly as funny.

Anti-poverty protester Bill Clennett gained national note on Feb. 15, 1996 when then-prime minister Chrétien throttled him.

Chrétien grabbed Clennett by the neck and roughly shoved him out of the way as Clennett blocked his path to his limousine in Hull, Que.

"It's quite extraordinary to trivialize his behaviour only to sell beer. It's pitiful," Clennett said.

Clennett was protesting proposed changes to unemployment insurance when the two men bumped into each other in 1996.

"What Mr. Chrétien did was not commonplace. There is nothing glorious there to celebrate," he added.

The longtime housing activist, who wants to run for the sovereigntist party Québec solitaire in Hull in the next provincial election, also criticized the English name of the beer.

In fact, Clennett filed a complaint with the province's language watchdog to seek a French translation for the name.

Tremblay dismissed Clennett's recrimination and said the popularity of the beer speaks for itself.

"We sold out in three days," Tremblay said, noting a new batch is underway for the Memorial Cup of the Canadian junior hockey league, to be held in Shawinigan May 18-27.

For the special event, Tremblay said a new label will be released showing Chretien choking a yet-to-be-revealed sports personality.

The young businessman also intends to market and distribute the Shawinigan Handshake beer across Canada in the coming months.

Chrétien's executive assistant Bruce Hartley said Wednesday the former prime minister indeed tried and liked the beer.

"He thought it would be a great idea to bottle it and sell it," Hartley said.

Chrétien will unveil Friday in Shawinigan a new historical display showcasing hundreds of gifts he received from foreign countries during his decade as prime minister from 1993 to 2003.


-- Postmedia News


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2012 A8

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