The Cynical Hypocrisy in the Justin Trudeau Groping Allegation Scandal
It’s important to hold the prime minister to account for past sexist behaviour. But the media circus that has grown up in the wake of an 18-year-old groping accusation should make everyone feel dirty.
Image source: Routers
Let’s recap the only thing pundits in this country seem able to talk about.
Back in August 2000, a wealthy 28-year-old ski bum named Justin Trudeau went to a beer-sponsored music festival in British Columbia. According to a woman working as a reporter, Canada’s future prime minister “blatantly disrespected” her by “groping” and “inappropriately handling” her at the festival. When confronted about it, he quipped that “I’m sorry. If I’d known you were writing for a national newspaper, I wouldn’t have been so forward.” Quite the charmer!
The reporter put him on blast in an editorial in the Creston Valley Advance the next day. Her excoriation, written in a tiny local paper before Google/Facebook swallowed the world, was lost to the gnawing criticism of basement mice until some intrepid opposition researcher and/or washed up columnist dug it up 18 years later. What they discovered was not a time capsule but live munition. Many critics had sensed that the prime minister’s zealous commitment to cleaning up Canadian gender relations was at best a ruse and at worse a lie, and finally they found the magic bullet.
It helps that Trudeau made himself an astonishingly easy target. His zero-tolerance approach to even a whiff of sexual impropriety in caucus, combined with his own personal anti-sexist self-righteousness, means that he was hoisted by his own petard. “That never happened” very quickly became “I don’t remember it happening that way” and then “well, some people interpret things differently.”
Sounds good! Except you can’t make this into a teaching moment unless you can tell us, very clearly, that you know what you did and why it was wrong. For all his talk about the importance of reaching out to young men and encouraging them to reflect on and change their behaviour, Trudeau opted to remain largely silent during his best opportunity to do exactly that. What he actually did comes off as a little cynical, which three years into this game is starting to feel like the only authentic part of the prime minister’s persona.
It is amazing what partisan mania can do. Legions of commentators who two weeks ago would have flown online to denounce #MeToo as a witch hunt were now weaponizing a harassment complaint without ever speaking with the woman involved. What a victory for feminism!
Finally, after a week of this, the ex-reporter at the centre of the controversy reluctantly issued a public statement. This was to say that according to her: a) yes, the encounter and apology really did happen as described, and b) she never wanted part of this and she doesn’t want part of it going forward.
Why she wouldn’t want a vulnerable part of her personal history becoming a political football in our toxic partisan bloodsport is beyond me. But since we’re all out here writing about how emphatically “we believe women” in order to own the Libs, maybe we should put our money where our mouths are and finally let this matter close.
There is nowhere else for this story to go. The only person who can contribute anything meaningful to it has said her peace and tapped out. Justin Trudeau’s attempt to build a political brand on the premise that he is the only non-shitty man ever to live has finally crashed up against the rocks of actual reality. We all make mistakes: sexism has its hooks deep inside all of us. But you also have to own your past ethical failures if you are going to appoint yourself the Grand Inquisitor of sexual harassment. He expelled two MPs from caucus in 2014 at the first hint of sexual impropriety, and routinely justified shooting first and questioning later as the only appropriate response to such allegations from truly committed feminists. Of course, it turns out now that this standard apparently applies to everyone but the prime minister.
Trudeau would be well advised not to wear a heavy crown unless his spine is strong enough to support it. Otherwise, it will start to appear to others that he was always more concerned with a branding exercise than a substantive commitment to justice.
Anyway, I’m glad we’ve established that the prime minister is a deeply flawed and hypocritical man. In the meantime, we should give the woman at the centre of this some peace. Otherwise, people might start to think Canadian pundits are also more concerned with branding exercises than with comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.