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

Deep Cove man running 50 km every month through his 50th birthday year

Ultrarunner hopes Deep 50 Challenge will raise $5,000 for Help Fill A Dream

Oak Bay to host secondary suite open house on Thursday

Online secondary suite survey will run April 25 until May 10

Local author wins gold medal for new book Fat Cats

Former parks warden’s series welcomes new addition to the canon

Ancient microbes discovered off the Juan de Fuca Ridge potentially offers glimpse into alien life

The marine bacteria is dependent on hydrogen, a compound present almost everywhere

Saanich rental project wins silver by going ‘green’

The Verve rental housing project stands at the corner of Boleskine Road and Whittier Avenue

WATCH: Movie star and PACE alum Calum Worthy talks musical theatre and his career

“American Vandal” and “Austin and Ally” actor has been returning to the program for over 20 years

POLL: How often does your family use BC Ferries?

Navigating the lineups for BC Ferries is a way of life for… Continue reading

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for the week of April 16

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

RCMP confirm witnesses say body found at Kelowna’s Gyro Beach

Police tape is blocking part of the beach and several RCMP officers are on scene.

B.C. fire department rescues kittens

Enderby homeowner not aware kittens in wood pile near garbage pile fire that got out of hand

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

A series of bomb blasts killed at least 207 people and injured hundreds more

Most Read