Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has built his international brand on being a feminist, had only a vague, brief response Sunday to a question about an allegation that he groped a reporter 18 years ago.
“I don't remember any negative interactions that day at all,” Trudeau said when asked about the allegation.
Trudeau was at a barbecue in Regina on Canada Day when a journalist asked him about the allegation that he groped a reporter at the Creston Valley Advance during the Kokanee Summit festival in 2000. At the time, Trudeau was a 28-year-old teacher there to support the festival’s goal of raising money for avalanche safety. His brother Michel died in an avalanche accident in 1998.
On Sunday, Trudeau said, “I remember that day in Creston well ... I had a good day that day. I don't remember any negative interactions that day at all."
A previous statement from the PMO said: “[The prime minister] doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”
At the time of the alleged groping, the Creston Valley Advance published an unsigned editorial that said Trudeau “blatantly disrespected” the reporter in question. Both the publisher and the editor at the time told the CBC they think the reporter who made the accusation is the one who wrote the editorial.
It did not elaborate on the incident itself, other than to describe it as “groping.” The editorial also alleged that Trudeau’s response to the reporter at the time was: “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”
VICE reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for additional comment on the allegation and Trudeau's response. In response, senior press secretary Chantal Gagnon said "we have nothing to add to the PM’s comments."
The PMO reiterated Trudeau’s track record on feminism in a statement to CNN Monday.
“As the Prime Minister has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect. His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill (University), and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful," the PMO said.
In an interview with CBC News, former Creston Valley Advance publisher Valerie Bourne said she recalls the reporter coming to her because she was “unsettled” by the alleged incident. While she described Trudeau’s alleged behaviour as “definitely not welcome and definitely inappropriate” she also noted, "I would not classify it or qualify it as sexual assault." The paper’s former editor Brian Bell told the CBC he believes the incident did take place.
When reached by the CBC, Trudeau’s accuser reportedly said she doesn’t want to be contacted about the story or associated with it. It was thrust into the public sphere when Warren Kinsella tweeted a photo of the unsigned editorial last month. It was subsequently picked up by Breitbart and other right-wing media before making mainstream headlines.
Since then, Trudeau has been attacked both from the right and left for his alleged actions and his response, especially in light of his outspoken feminist values. Prior to becoming prime minister, he fired two Liberal MPs who were accused of sexual misconduct. His government is also hoping to pass a bill to end workplace harassment—an issue that has received unprecedented attention as part of the #MeToo movement.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.