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Did Justin Trudeau make a kosher apology?

Dave Gordon - Thursday, 19 May, 2016

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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.”

The problems:

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 much sorry.

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 it right.)

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 he regretted “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.”

The problems:

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 public record.

In sum:

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 has borrowed.

Earlier this year, all it took was one parliamentarian to call another parliamentarian “Dodgy Dave,” to prompt his immediate removal from the House.

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.


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