Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly apologized after remarks he made toward a First Nations woman during a Liberal Laurier Club fundraiser in Toronto on Wednesday.
Just before Trudeau was to address the crowd at the Omni King Edward Hotel event, a First Nations woman holding a large sign exclaimed: “People in Grassy Narrows are suffering from Mercury poisoning, you committed to addressing this crisis.”
Trudeau responded, “Thank you for your donation tonight I really appreciate it.” The attendees responded with cheers and applause.
The moment was captured on video and posted to Facebook.
According to Global News, Laurier Club members are considered high-end Liberal donors who must contribute a minimum of $1,500 in order to join the ranks.
In Halifax on Thursday morning, Trudeau, who was criticized for acting smug since the incident, told reporters he did not act respectfully toward the woman.
“From time to time I’m in situations where people are expressing concerns or protesting a particular thing and I always try to be respectful and engage with them in a positive way. I didn’t do that last night. Last night I lacked respect towards them.”
Trudeau also said protestors would be refunded admissions costs, and that he would be speaking to Indigenous Service Minister Seamus O’Regan to ‘fully engage’ on the issue affecting Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong, communities affected by mercury poisoning.
“I do take that seriously and I apologize to them,” said Trudeau.
Several tweets from the @FreeGrassy Twitter account called out Trudeau and have asked for "#MercuryJustice now!"
The @FreeGrassy account posted the Trudeau video moment citing: "Thanks for your donation" - smugger words have never been said @JustinTrudeau is failing to help #GrassyNarrows, a key test of his 'commitment' to meaningful relationships with First Nations and to a healthy environment.
First Nations leaders have issued public statements about Trudeau's remarks.
Statement from Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief of Grand Council Treaty #3 and Chief Rudy Turtle, Grassy Narrows First Nation regarding Prime Minister's disrespectful comment and subsequent apology:
“I am very dismayed and disheartened that Prime Minister Trudeau made these deriding and disrespectful comments yesterday considering the reconciliation platform he ran on. We take the lives of our Treaty #3 people very seriously and will continue to support the work the advocates are doing on behalf of those suffering from mercury poisoning,” said Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief of Grand Council Treaty #3. “The federal government must be reminded of their 2017 promise to fund a specialized mercury treatment facility in the Grassy Narrows First Nation. Nothing has been done and our people continue to suffer. We want to see action now.”
Chief Rudy Turtle, Grassy Narrows First Nation:
“We acknowledge the Prime Minister’s apology, however, he must be reminded of the urgency of this matter and the ongoing struggle and threats to the health of First Nations citizens because of environmental contamination for over 50 years. People are dying from mercury contamination and nothing is being done. Enough is enough,” said Chief Rudy Turtle. “The Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek Aaki Declaration (Grassy Narrows First Nation Land Declaration) issued in October 2018 set out a number of principles including the governments of Ontario and Canada support the leaders and citizens in rebuilding our health, our way of life, and our livelihood, which have all been severely impacted by mercury and industrial logging. Prime Minister must honour this declaration and take the necessary steps immediately.”
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