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Page turns against Harper, is fired

Winnipeg woman protests Harper's 'disastrous' agenda

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/6/2011 (2266 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The 21-year-old parliamentary page who disrupted Friday's throne speech is a baton-twirling Winnipeg native who has been mentored by Manitoba Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs.

Brigette DePape was the media darling of the throne speech after she used her access to the Senate chamber as a parliamentary page to stage a protest against the Conservative government.

Page Brigette DePape used her access to the Senate to protest the Harper government’s agenda during Friday’s throne speech. She was quickly ushered out by security and fired from her job. DePape denies suggestions she disrespected Parliament.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Page Brigette DePape used her access to the Senate to protest the Harper government’s agenda during Friday’s throne speech. She was quickly ushered out by security and fired from her job. DePape denies suggestions she disrespected Parliament.

Shortly after Gov. Gen. David Johnston began reading the speech, DePape walked to the centre of the chamber, stood behind the Supreme Court justices and held up a red stop-sign shaped sign with the words "Stop Harper,"

Security quickly escorted her out and she was fired from her job as a page a month before it was to end anyway. Then she bounced around from interview to interview, giggling nervously and working out her media lines as she went. Within 20 minutes of her holding the sign in the Senate, she was one of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in Canada and, within an hour, she had her own fan page on Facebook.

DePape was well spoken but occasionally appeared intimidated, wasn't always sure what questions she could answer, and kept looking at her friend, Tasha Peters, who was acting as her publicist, for help.

"Tash," she said plaintively at one point, hoping to be rescued under intense questioning about whether she had disrespected Parliament.

As they were racing through the streets of downtown Ottawa between television interviews, Peters acknowledged the media attention was a lot more than she had expected. DePape said she had no regrets but admitted she is now looking for work.

"I was extremely nervous," she admitted.

DePape would not say when she began planning her protest, which she said is not affiliated with any particular group.

"There was something inside of me that just said you have to do this.

"Harper's agenda is disastrous for this country and for my generation. We have to stop him from wasting billions on fighter jets, military bases and corporate tax cuts while cutting social programs and destroying the climate," read her missive.

Carstairs, who has mentored DePape since 2007 as part of the prestigious Loran scholarship program, said nothing like this has ever happened during her 17 years in the Senate.

Carstairs said she ran into DePape twice in the last week, once in Ottawa's Byward Market and again when the Senate resumed sitting on Thursday.

Carstairs said she would have discouraged her from doing so, at least in her page's uniform from the floor of the Senate. "It was inappropriate," said Carstairs. "This is a girl with an incredible future. Why she decided to do this, I don't know." Carstairs said some Senate pages can stay in their jobs as long as three years and many go on to work for senators.

"I would suggest Brigette is not going to be one of those (pages now)," Carstairs said.

DePape grew up in Winnipeg, was a member of a local baton-twirling team until she was 13 and graduated from College Jeanne Sauvé.

She volunteered at the Siloam Mission, raised more than $100,000 for a village in Senegal and was a member of the group Students Without Borders.

In 2007, she won a prestigious Loran scholarship from the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation. The prize includes up to $75,000 over four years and help finding summer internships in public policy.

Last summer, DePape interned at the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, where she penned an essay on the G20 protests in which admitted she was crushed when her father told her protesting was unproductive and ineffective.

Shauna MacKinnon, director of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said she couldn't have predicted DePape would stage such a protest. "But it doesn't entirely surprise me," said MacKinnon,

"Brigette is very bright, very energetic and very passionate about the issues that are important to her."

DePape said she wants her protest to inspire others to stand up and reject the Conservative agenda.

She said she didn't see her actions as disrespectful.

"The really important thing here is Harper has been disrespecting Canadians," she said. "We need to find creative ways to voice our opinions."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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