Prime Minister Trudeau, apparently frustrated at a brief parliamentary
procedural delay May 18, barked at a crowded group of colleagues “get the fuck
out of my way,” then abruptly grabbed Conservative MP Gordon Brown’s arm to
yank him towards the front.
In doing so, he inadvertently elbowed a female NDP colleague, Ellen
Brosseau, in the chest hard enough to compel her to miss a vote.
In an initial
apology moments after the altercation, he said:
“I admit I came in physical contact with a number of members as I
extended my arm, including someone behind me who I did not see. If anyone feels
that they were impacted by my actions, I completely apologize. It was not my
intention to hurt anyone.”
“[M]y apologies for my behaviour and my actions, unreservedly.”
“I noticed that the whip opposite was being impeded in his progress, I took
it upon myself to go and assist him forward, which I can now see was
unadvisable as a course of action that resulted in physical contact in this
House that we can all accept was unacceptable.
“I look for opportunities to make amends directly to the member and to any
members who feel negatively impacted by this exchange and intervention.”
He begins with the passive voice “I came in physical contact,” rather than
taking the blame with “I wrongly and rudely grabbed my colleague’s arm.”
The people he hurt were called “members” and “someone” instead of
individuals with names.
He followed that up with the dread “if” – the conditional apology – “if
anyone feels they were impacted by my actions, I completely apologize.”
It’s as though he’s saying he’s only sorry “if” someone’s “feelings” were
“impacted.” Otherwise, if there were no feelings impacted, he’s not so
When he says “I took it upon myself to assist him forward”, we know from the
video tape that it was no “assist”, but what people are characterizing as
“manhandling” and “force.”
No apology should ever include “it was not my intention to hurt anyone”, because
we often don’t care about intentions; we care about the outcome. (Of course you
didn’t intend to hit my car, but you were careless, and now I want you to make
And finally, he couldn’t hold himself directly responsible, instead hiding
behind the shroud of politikspeak: “unadvisable course of action that resulted
in physical contact”.
This is what’s known as faulting the circumstance (the unadvisable course of
action), whereas the culpability lies squarely on the person’s wrong choices.
However, I do give him credit for trying – as expeditiousness in apology is
the primary, and often the most important factor when expressing remorse.
Research has shown that – though not ideal, obviously - an incomplete but
speedy apology is more effective than a long and thoughtful one delayed.
In a second
apology, a day later, Trudeau said in Parliament
“that intervention” which was “not my role and it should not have happened.”
“I refuse to allow anyone to think there was any justification for my
behaviour yesterday evening. It was on me, it was my mistake, it was unbecoming
of anyone in this House. I know my colleagues expect better of me… I ask for
Canadians’ understanding and forgiveness.”
“I apologize to my colleagues, to the House as a whole and to you, Mr.
Speaker, for failing to live up to a higher standard of behaviour… members
rightfully expect better behaviour from everyone in this House and myself… I
know and I regret that my actions failed to meet that standard.”
Note that names of the people harmed were still not mentioned, especially
the parliamentarian who was "manhandled".
The prime minister could have done away with the florid verse “I refuse to
allow anyone to think there was any justification for my behaviour” and simply
said “there was no excuse.”
There was no recognition of his coarse language.
And asking for forgiveness is one thing, but asking for “understanding”? I
don’t know what that is, or what that requires. What is there to understand?
But overall, the second apology finishes what the first one started.
It’s important to note, moreover, he was chastised
by Opposition Members and editorialists, a type of public hand-wringing
that most of us will never experience, that will live on in search engines and
Thank goodness, we’re nowhere near the Ukraine
with its myriad of politicians’
fistfights, or South
Africa or Turkey. Of course, it could be much worse.
But maybe we can take some decorum lessons from Great
Britain’s Parliament – the very political system
from which Canada
Earlier this year, all it took was one parliamentarian to call another
parliamentarian “Dodgy Dave,” to prompt his immediate removal from
An interesting follow up would be for the prime minister himself to put
forward a motion for some sort of reprimand for undecorous (and un-Canadian)
behavior in the House, in an attempt to ensure these kinds of problems – how
ever rare – never happen again.