July 19, 2018

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Opportunity missed for our feminist PM

Editorial

For the past two weeks, an incident from 18 years ago has been dominating the news cycle.

A 28-year-old Justin Trudeau allegedly groped a female reporter at a music festival in Creston, B.C., in the summer of 2000. The incident was documented in an editorial which ran in the Creston Valley Advance. Specific details were not disclosed, other than that the reporter was “groped” and “inappropriately handled.”

It’s not a good look for our self-proclaimed feminist prime minister.

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For the past two weeks, an incident from 18 years ago has been dominating the news cycle.

A 28-year-old Justin Trudeau allegedly groped a female reporter at a music festival in Creston, B.C., in the summer of 2000. The incident was documented in an editorial which ran in the Creston Valley Advance. Specific details were not disclosed, other than that the reporter was "groped" and "inappropriately handled."

It’s not a good look for our self-proclaimed feminist prime minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

It’s worth noting that Mr. Trudeau wasn’t in Canada’s highest office at the time of the incident — just a beer-drinking bro with a famous last name — but that doesn’t make it better. Men should not touch women without their consent, at any time, regardless of who they are or where they work.

The woman at the centre of the story wants nothing more to do with it. Now, it’s the response to the act, rather than the act itself, making headlines.

Eighteen years later, Mr. Trudeau is in a position of power and leadership. When the editorial resurfaced, it presented an opportunity for him to meaningfully walk his feminist talk by owning up to the incident, apologizing fully and talking about ways he could do better.

Instead, he reiterated that he’s confident he did not act inappropriately — strange, considering he’d previously apologized for being "forward" — and then offered this:

"Part of this awakening we’re having as a society, a long-awaited realization, is that it’s not just one side of the story that matters. That the same interactions can be experienced very differently from one person to the next.

"I am not going to speak for the woman in question. I would never presume to speak for her. But I know that there is an awful lot of reflection to be had as we move forward as a society on how people perceive different interactions."

It’s true two people might perceive the same situation differently. But what the #MeToo movement has shown is unwanted sexual behaviour exists on a spectrum, and it does not have to be violent assault to register as such. Mr. Trudeau could have opened an important dialogue about that, but such an effort would require significant self-reflection.

It is unreasonable to be disappointed, or even surprised, by the fact Mr. Trudeau is not a perfect feminist. But it is reasonable to be disappointed that he continues to deliver sermons about societal reflection from on high, without looking too hard at himself.

Some have accused Mr. Trudeau of lopsidedly applying his own zero-tolerance harassment policy, pointing to the suspensions of Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti in 2014. But it’s also not the same thing: Mr. Andrews and Mr. Pacetti held public office at the time.

Perhaps the "groping" controversy serves better as a cautionary tale about pedestals — the ones we put other people on, and the ones on which we put ourselves.

Mr. Trudeau’s political brand was built on lofty, progressive, feminist ideals; as political commentator Jen Gerson points out in the Washington Post, "The problem, here, is that in his bid to craft these woker-than-thou progressive credentials, Trudeau has raised the bar beyond the level that he could meet."

In that way, our prime minister is a hypocrite in the same way most of us are hypocrites. People are complicated, and they don’t always behave in ways which align with their belief systems. They make mistakes and hurt people, even the most progressive among them.

It is unreasonable to be disappointed, or even surprised, by the fact Mr. Trudeau is not a perfect feminist. But it is reasonable to be disappointed that he continues to deliver sermons about societal reflection from on high, without looking too hard at himself.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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