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Remark not racist: Robinson

Rights commission will decide, says Selinger

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Eric Robinson said his comment about the "ignorance of do-good white people" may have been inappropriate, but it wasn't racist.

And Premier Greg Selinger refused, when questioned on Monday, to judge whether the remark was racist, saying that would be up to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Robinson, 60, a 20-year MLA who has been in cabinet since 1999, said he regretted using the word "white" in an email to a staffer who had raised concerns that a burlesque show was being organized to raise funds for the Osborne House women's shelter.

But he stood by his criticism of the event Monday, saying it was "not thought out thoroughly." He said a burlesque show "dehumanizes women" and is unsuitable as an event to raise money for an organization that provides a safe haven to exploited women.

Robinson issued a written apology for his choice of words on Friday but did not face the media until Monday.

'I'm regretful for a couple of things: the term 'white' for one thing, white do-gooders. I am also regretful that the event occurred' -- Eric Robinson

"I'm regretful for a couple of things: the term 'white' for one thing, white do-gooders. I am also regretful that the event occurred," he told reporters.

Robinson also said despite his initial defence of his comments, he was not forced to issue his written apology late last week. He said he simply decided to take the "high road" in the matter after discussing the issue with the premier. "Nobody twisted my arm, nobody threw me to the ground. Nobody forced me to say anything. It was a statement that I wrote... myself," he said.

Robinson, however, would not admit that his controversial comment -- made in November but which only came to light last week -- was racist. "I don't think so. I've heard worse things said about me. And I still do."

He categorized his remark as "a general statement" that was "not directed at anybody."

Pressed for clarification, Robinson spoke of his experiences with racism at the hands of non-aboriginal people.

"As a 10-year-old boy I remember my late mother, who was a person who died when she was 31 years old on the street getting beaten by her non-aboriginal boyfriend and I did my best to try to help her out. Of course, I did not succeed because the guy was a full-grown man and he knocked me out. But still to this day I committed myself to working with aboriginal women. And my record stands for itself...."

Robinson's views on "do-good white people" came to light after the director of Osborne House, Barbara Judt, received a copy of the Nov. 22 email through a freedom of information request. She said she has filed a complaint with the provincial human rights commission. Reached by the Free Press on Sunday, she also rejected the cabinet minister's earlier apology, calling it insincere.

On Monday, Selinger rejected Conservative Opposition demands that he drop Robinson from cabinet over the issue, noting that his minister had already apologized for his poor choice of words.

"He was concerned about burlesque being used as a fund-raising activity for a domestic violence shelter, but he also acknowledged that he could have made a better choice of his words and he apologized. And I accept that," Selinger said in facing the media for the first time since the remarks became widely known on Friday.

Although Selinger disciplined a government backbencher recently for a homophobic comment in the legislature, he said he will not mete out any punishment to Robinson.

The difference, he said, was that Robinson's statement was made in a "private communication" to a staffer.

"It was never intended for public consumption nor was it intended to single out anybody in the community. So it's quite a different set of circumstances," Selinger said, adding Robinson is a national leader in raising the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Asked what his response would have been if Robinson had made the disparaging remark about members of a different race, Selinger reiterated Robinson had apologized for the statement and withdrawn it.

"My response would be the same, in that he acknowledged it and apologized for it and I respect him for doing that in the context of... advocating about the concerns of people being possibly victimized ...."

In calling for Robinson's removal from cabinet, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister called the minister's comment "racist in nature" and "disrespectful."

"It's not acceptable," Pallister said. "It doesn't reflect the values of Manitobans who oppose racism in all its forms. It is beneath contempt and the minister needs to be removed from his position."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2013 A3

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