Trudeau says sorry for sarcastic thank you comment to Indigenous protester

Prime Minister under fire for comment made to Indigenous protester who interrupted a Liberal fundraising event

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Thursday for his sarcastic retort to an Indigenous protester who interrupted a Liberal fundraising event the night before in Toronto.

Trudeau said he’s sorry for how he responded to the protester, who unfurled a banner at the foot of the stage in an effort to draw attention to the impact of mercury poisoning in the northern Ontario community of Grassy Narrows First Nation.

“Thank you for your donation,” Trudeau told the woman as she was escorted out by security. “I really appreciate your donation to the Liberal Party of Canada.”

Others in the audience, who paid $1,500 each in order to attend the event, cheered the prime minister’s dismissive remark, which was captured by cellphone cameras and circulated on social media.

Trudeau showed more contrition when asked about the confrontation Thursday.

“As I think you all know, from time to time I’m in situations where people are expressing concerns or protesting a particular thing, and I always try to be respectful and always try to engage with them in a positive way,” he said following an announcement in Halifax.

“That’s how I believe democracy should function, and I didn’t do that last night. Last night I lacked respect towards them and I apologize for that.”

Any funds that the protesters contributed in order to gain access to the event will be refunded, he added.

READ MORE: Grassy Narrows First Nation chief not ‘a believer’ in PM’s reconciliation pledge

“They wanted to express their concerns about an issue and I do take that seriously and I apologize to them.”

Indigenous people in Grassy Narrows, about 90 kilometres north of Kenora, Ont., have been contending for decades with chemical-waste mercury dumped into the English-Wabigoon river system throughout the 1960s and 1970s, poisoning fish and locals who rely on the river as a source of water and food.

The community hopes to build a world-class mercury treatment facility to help deal with the fallout from the poisoning, which causes often irreparable damage, including impaired vision, muscle weakness, speech, hearing and cognitive problems and and numbness or stinging pain in the extremities and mouth.

Grassy Narrows staff met with former Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott in December to discuss progress on the facility, shortly after giving the government a feasibility study for the project. At that time Philpott said the government was actively working to get it built.

Trudeau said he plans to follow up with Seamus O’Reagan, who replaced Philpott on the Indigenous Services file in January, to “make sure we are looking at exactly everything we can do to continue to work hard in resolving this situation.”

“It is something that is of real concern and a real piece of the path of reconciliation that we must walk on,” he said.

Grassy Narrows is about 90 km north of Kenora, Ont.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Castlegar swimmers at Trail meet

Castlegar swimmers took part in the Greater Trail Stingrays meet last weekend.

Castlegar mayor releases FCM itinerary

Bruno Tassone delivers promised report on activities at Quebec City municipal conference

Castlegar watering restrictions start this week

No watering or car washing allowed between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Fish free on Family Fishing Weekend

Family Fishing Weekend events take place June 14 to 16 with organized events in the Kootenays.

PLACE NAMES: Rossland neighbourhoods, Part 2

Early Rossland’s misaligned townsite additions frustrated the city engineer

VIDEO: First Nations, developer call for return and protection of sacred B.C. burial site

Dozens of First Nations leaders gather on grassy plateau to call on action by provincial government

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Teen stabbed after end-of-night limo dispute in downtown Vancouver

A young man, 19, is in serious condition following a dispute between two groups

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Convicted B.C. child abductor Randall Hopley back in custody 6 months after release

Correctional Services Canada could not provide further details due to privacy concerns

Bears have killed 17 people in B.C. since 1986

Number of bear complaints and bears killed rose sharply during same period

Most Read