by Rosie DiManno
I like the 2000 version of Justin Trudeau a whole lot better.
That Justin, chugging a stein of beer and seemingly wholly enjoying himself at the Kokanee Summit festival – attending the small B.C. town event to accept a charitable donation towards his family’s campaign to build a backcountry lodge in honour of his late younger brother, Michel, killed in an avalanche two years earlier – would have been good company, I think.
Still, a teacher at the time and didn’t have politics on the brain, unless it was an ambition held close to the vest.
Perhaps wasn’t so assiduously minding his p’s and q’s – which would later metamorphize into earnest Just-Watch-Me capital-F Feminism.
Certainly less peacock-y than the Justin who jogged shirtless through Toronto in the enervating heat on Thursday.
He does shirtless ubiquitously.
Practically transgender in this era, so virtuously does Justin channel his empathy for the female state of being. Certainly he’s made a policy virtue out of zero tolerance for sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviour and boundaries-breeching.
Liberal MPs have been sent packing by Trudeau or arm-twisted into resignation even before independent third-party investigations into allegations of misconduct had concluded.
Our prime minister cleaves to the view that women should always be believed unless and until proven otherwise. Contrary to Canadian courts, the onus to disprove is on the accused.
Thing is, zero tolerance is a bludgeon, heedless of nuance and the often fraught, tangled, abstruse interplay between human beings.
Now he’s been hoisted by his own immaculate petard.
To be clear: Trudeauís alleged fall from grace, knocked off that upright uptight pedestal of piety by media regurgitation of a purported groping incident from 18 years ago, is not so much a #MeToo moment as a GOTCHA moment, certainly from predictably hostile quarters making a helluva stink about it.
An editorial in the Creston Valley Advance – penned by the complainant herself (one of two reporters, ergo half of the Advance reporting staff) – way back on Aug, 4, 2000, blasted the then-28-year-old Justin for groping the woman while she was on assignment at that aforementioned festival, and apologizing (“a day late”) for the unwanted, resented contact.
The object of Trudeau’s alleged botheration had stayed out of the fray until Friday evening, when The Canadian Press reported that she had confirmed the occurrence in a statement that appears to have been sent from her email account.
“The incident referred to in the editorial did occur as reported. Mr. Trudeau did apologize the next day.
“I enjoyed my career as a reporter, but it ended a long time ago. I avoided issuing a statement earlier out of concern for my and my family’s privacy.”
Adding: “Beyond this statement, I will not be providing any further details or information. The debate, if it continues, will continue without my involvement.”
The Canadian Press on Friday identified the woman as Rose Knight.
That ancient editorial did quote from Trudeau’s apology: “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”
Though how that would have made a difference – the reporter also covering the festival for the National Post and Vancouver Sun – is a stumper.
Indeed, it reeks of disdain. The same Trudeau who, 18 years later – Thursday, actually – was witheringly condescending towards Premier Doug Ford on the subject of immigration versus refugees whilst at Queen’s Park. (Not that Ford didnít deserve the smackdown.)
For weeks, since satirical rag Frank Magazine, resurrected the itsy-bitsy scandal, Trudeau and the Prime Minister’s Office has cycled through various postures of response: Can’t recall any “negative interactions,” remember the festival but not the aggrieving event, not disputing but not validating either.
No reason why Trudeau should have a clear memory of what happened on one specific day ages ago. And possibly he never saw nor was made aware of the editorial back then. But he’s had a lot of time to ponder it in the past fortnight, to root around in the medial temporal lobe of his brain where memories are stored.
In Toronto, Trudeau came closest to owning the damn thing.
“I’ve been reflecting very carefully on what I remember from that incident almost 20 years ago,” he told scrumming reporters. “I do not feel that I acted inappropriately in any way. But I respect the fact that someone else might have experienced that differently.”
So he does remember?
Because not believing that he acted inappropriately certainly implies an aha flashback retrieval.
“I’ve been reflecting on the actual interaction and if I apologized later, then it would be because I sensed that she was not entirely comfortable with the interaction we had. Like I said, Iíve been working very hard to try and piece it together and even when the original editorial came out at the time, I was fairly confident, I was very confident, that I hadnít acted in a way that I felt was in any way inappropriate.”
That he felt.
You see the problem here.
By his own hardcore orthodoxy on social mores circa 2018, Trudeau has painted himself into a corner. Either he acknowledges that his own processing of the event was faulty and – by his #MeToo hosanna dictum – irrelevant, or he’s a hypocrite.
Maybe he made a move on the reporter and she, a working professional at that moment, didnít like it. She would have some cause to be pissed off, to the extent that she tore a strip off Trudeau in an unsigned editorial.
Although my reading of the editorial is that the writer was more annoyed by the disrespect shown a reporter from a small community newspaper; less worthy of professional regard than a big-time journalist.
Age 28 isnít so young. Trudeau just sounded cocky, entitled and patronizing.
But you know what? Not a big deal.
As so much of what passes for #MeToo indignation does not rise to the level of workplace harassment, sexual coercion, and certainly not criminality.
If this is a reckoning moment for Trudeau, maybe heíll learn to have a bit more tolerance for the indiscretions and imbecilities of personkind.
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services