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Justin Trudeau Apologizes to Female Legislator After Bizarre Parliamentary Altercation Breaks Out

After rushing through the House of Commons to grab one opposition politician, Trudeau knocked over a fellow legislature and set in motion a heated, and rare, bit of political strife.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

In what may be one of the strangest scenes in Canada's Parliament in recent years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized profusely to an opposition politician after accidentally pushing her into a desk while grabbing another member of parliament.

Video of the event shows that the prime minister knocked MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau into a desk, and bowled forward unabated. He then returned to exchange words with the leader of the third party in Canada's House of Commons.

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Tensions had been growing all week in Ottawa, as Trudeau's Liberal Party — which holds a majority in the House of Commons, but which has vowed to increase collaboration and reduce partisanship in the house — limited debate on controversial legislation, and moved to change rules to benefit its own party.

The political head-butting led the opposition New Democratic Party, which had been employing parliamentary tricks to try and defeat and frustrate legislation that would make it easier to outsource manufacturing jobs, to engage in a silent protest.

The MPs for the left-wing party stood in the middle of the aisle in the chamber in order to block Gord Brown, the whip for the opposition Conservative Party, in an attempt to delay a vote.

Trudeau, from across the house, noticed the display, and strode over to the NDP benches. The prime minister grabbed Brown, dragging him through the NDP ranks, knocking over Brosseau in the process, pushing her into a desk and, according to Brosseau herself, elbowing her in the chest. One MP said Trudeau yelled "get the-" the MP censored herself "-out of the way" in the process.

Uproarious heckling and shouting ensued, as NDP leader Thomas Mulcair began yelling at the prime minister. Trudeau returned to the NDP benches where he and Mulcair came face-to-face.

"We don't want to be the House of Commons that some other country watches on CNN, and wonders what happened."

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Trudeau went back to his desk and, once order had been restored, apologized.

"I came in physical contact with a number of members as I extended my arm," Trudeau said. "I did not intend to offend or impact on anyone."

The official opposition asked the speaker to intervene, arguing that Trudeau's actions — "manhandling" Brown, and pushing Brosseau — were unparliamentary.

In the debate that followed, opposition members stood to offer their own accounts of what happened.

"I witnessed the prime minister walk over and manhandle the whip of the official opposition," NDP MP Niki Ashton told the House, calling into question Trudeau's credentials as a feminist, arguing that he made the environment unsafe for his female colleagues.

Video here clearly shows PM Trudeau grabbing Oppo Whip and harshly elbowing NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau — James Smith (@JsrSmith)May 18, 2016

"What we saw was the Prime Minister physically grabbing people, elbowing people," Conservative MP Peter Van Loan said.

The Liberals, however, disputed this and said they saw no such thing.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus suggested that the opposition was looking to "exaggerate the situation, and make it into something that it wasn't, and want to make it into something reminiscent of a dive in the 2014 World Cup."

After Brosseau herself stood up to confirm that Trudeau had elbowed her, he stood again to apologize to her directly.

"I take responsibility for my actions," Trudeau concluded.

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Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, called Trudeau's actions "unacceptable" but pleaded for "perspective," arguing that knocking into Brosseau was clearly an accident.

"We don't want to be the House of Commons that some other country watches on CNN, and wonders what happened," May said.

The heated environment even saw opposition MPs screaming "shame!" at May.

WATCH - PM Trudeau & — Richard Madan (@RichardMadan)May 18, 2016

The House of Commons will likely vote on Thursday to send the matter to be studied by a committee.

The tensions in Parliament come after the Liberal government moved a new set of rules for the House of Commons that essentially quash many procedural tricks that the opposition parties had used to push back against the majority government, which has been aggressively forcing its agenda through Parliament in recent days.

At the same time, the Liberals used their own procedural levers to clap down on debate. Just after the altercation occurred, the Liberals forced a vote that would curtail debate on legislation to legalize physician-assisted dying — a vote that Brosseau says she missed, because of the incident.

The House is now forced to deal with the issue at hand, instead of dealing with other government business — meaning that other matters will likely be on hold until the opposition are adequately satisfied.

The Canadian Parliament is generally raucous, although things rarely get physical. In 2012, Van Loan and Mulcair were almost the ones to come to blows, and had to be separated by fellow MPs.

It's not Trudeau's first apology, either. He had to say sorry in 2011 after calling a government minister a "piece of shit."