Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he apologized “in the moment” to the female reporter who alleged he groped her, and says that men and women can experience interactions differently, especially in a professional context.
Trudeau said he has been “reflecting very carefully” on an allegation that he groped a female reporter 18 years ago, and is confident he “did not act inappropriately.”
Expanding on his previous comments during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, Trudeau said he remembers apologizing to the woman.
“I apologized in the moment,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting with Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “I certainly feel that if, um, again I don’t want to speak for her. I don’t want to presume how she feels now. I haven’t reached out to her, no one on my team has reached out to her. We don’t think that would be appropriate at all.
“I’m responsible for my side of the interaction, which was certainly I don’t feel was in any way untoward,” he continued. “But at the same time, this lesson that we are learning is, and I’ll be blunt about it, often a man experiences an interaction as being benign or not inappropriate, and a woman, particularly in a professional context, can experience it differently, and we have to respect that and reflect on it.”
The Canadian prime minister's comments represent a new response to allegations published 18 years ago in a Creston Valley Advance newspaper editorial that he had “groped” one of the paper’s female reporters at the Kokanee Summit festival in 2000. Trudeau, 28 at the time, had lost his brother in an avalanche and was at the festival to support its effort to raise money for avalanche safety.
On Sunday during a Canada Day barbecue in Regina, Trudeau told reporters, “I remember that day in Creston well. It was an Avalanche Foundation event to support avalanche safety. I had a good day that day. I don’t remember any negative interactions that day at all.”
The woman has not come forward. The allegation resurfaced on June 6 when Canadian law professor and commentator Warren Kinsella tweeted a photo of the newspaper editorial, forcing the issue into the spotlight. The editorial, which VICE News has not independently verified, quotes Trudeau as saying, “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.” The editorial states he “apologized — a day late — for inappropriately ‘handling’ the reporter while she was on assignment.”
Former publisher of the Advance, Valerie Bourne, told CBC News she remembered speaking to the reporter in 2000: "My recollections of the conversation were that she came to me because she was unsettled by it. She didn't like what had happened. She wasn't sure how she should proceed with it because of course we're talking somebody who was known to the Canadian community."
Before Trudeau commented on the allegations, the woman told CBC she does not want to be identified or contacted about the incident. VICE News has not independently verified the allegation, and has not reached out to the woman involved.
The story has struck a nerve in Canada and internationally. Trudeau, often seen as the anti-Trump, has called himself a feminist and has taken a zero-tolerance approach to allegations of sexual harassment within his own government.
On Wednesday, responding to Trudeau’s comments that he didn’t remember any negative interactions, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel compared Trudeau to Harvey Weinstein, telling the Huffington Post, “Well I’m sure Harvey Weinstein said that he couldn’t recall things either.”
Since the New York Times reported decades of sexual assault allegations against Weinstein last fall, survivors of sexual violence across numerous industries have come forward to tell their stories. The #MeToo movement hit Canada’s Parliament early this year, with women accusing current and former Members of Parliament across all major parties.
Asked earlier this year about the #MeToo movement in Canadian politics, and whether his own actions had ever been misconstrued, Trudeau told CBC, “I don’t think so. I’ve been very, very careful all my life to be thoughtful, to be respectful of people’s space and people’s headspace as well.”
In the interview, he said he should be held to the same zero tolerance policy as everyone else, noting his own experience 25 years ago as one of the first male facilitators at a sexual assault centre at McGill University leading conversations about consent, accountability and power dynamics.
“The standard applies to everyone,” he said. “There is no context in which someone doesn’t have responsibility for things they’ve done in the past.”
Cover image: Chris Young/The Canadian Press
This article originally appeared on VICE News CA.