TORONTO – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized “unreservedly” for making physical contact with a female opposition member of Parliament who said Trudeau elbowed her in the chest as he waded through a group of opposition lawmakers.
Opposition lawmaker Ruth Ellen Brosseau said she had to leave the House of Commons chamber Wednesday.
“I was elbowed in the chest by the prime minister and then I had to leave. It was very overwhelming,” she said. “I missed the vote because of this.”
Footage from the House of Commons television feed shows Trudeau wading into a clutch of lawmakers and pulling one through the crowd in order to get the vote started. As Trudeau turns around to pull the lawmaker through, Brosseau can be seen grimacing in pain.
Trudeau, a boxer and former bar bouncer, later stood up in Parliament and said it wasn’t his intention to hurt anyone as he attempted to escort the lawmaker. Trudeau said he thought the man was being impeded as he walked up the aisle of the chamber and wanted to help him in attempt to speed up the vote.
“I admit that I came in physical contact with a number of members as I extended my arm, including someone behind me whom I did not see. I certainly did not intend to offend or impact on anyone,” Trudeau said. “I apologize for that unreservedly and I look for opportunities to make amends.”
Opposition New Democrat lawmaker Peter Julian called it a “pretty violent push” and said he had never seen such behavior in his 12 years in Parliament. “Physical force in this House is never permitted,” he said. Opposition Conservative Andrew Scheer said he was sitting across from Trudeau and said it was clear he lost his temper.
“He was motivated by anger and lost his temper,” said Scheer, who added it was “very unstatesmanlike.”
Opposition New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair later screamed at Trudeau “What kind of man elbows a woman!?” in the chamber before Trudeau’s cabinet bench cleared and intervened to make sure things didn’t escalate. The kerfuffle comes as a possible blow to Trudeau’s image as a modern, feminist leader.
Tempers have been running high as the government pushes through a motion to limit debate on its euthanasia legislation.
Interim opposition Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called the prime minister’s behavior shocking and embarrassing and said Trudeau’s clear intent was to intimidate lawmakers physically and his actions resulted in Brosseau being shoved into a desk. “He should be ashamed,” Ambrose said in a statement.
Opposition Conservative lawmaker Jason Kenney tweeted that if previous Prime Minister Stephen Harper had ever physically bullied members of Parliament like Trudeau, there would be immediate and widespread demands for his resignation.
“No sane person watching that video could come to any conclusion but that it was an accident. Stupid of him to be over there, but come on,” political commentator Andrew Coyne tweeted.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May, whose seat in the House of Commons, gave her a ringside seat for the encounter and subsequent arguments, called for calm at one point and suggested that the New Democrat lawmakers may have been milling about on the floor in order to delay the vote.
“It was most unwise of the prime minister to attempt to move along the vote,” May said. “But the second contact with my friend (Brosseau), which is certainly the one that was the most emotional for the member involved, was clearly, from my perspective … unintentional.”
She added: “He had not seen her behind him. That is the truth. Now you can like it or not like it.”
The Speaker concluded that Brosseau’s privileges as a Member Parliament had been breached, which means the encounter will be examined by an all-party committee.
Physical contact between lawmakers is rare in legislatures in Canada but the incident reminded Canadians of the time when late former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford barreled over a 63-year-old female city councilor while rushing to the defense of his brother, Councilor Doug Ford, who was insulting spectators in the council chamber.