TORONTO—Anonymous. The message landed, as these sorts of things do so often, via Twitter on June 6, 2018.
“Hi Warren,” it read. “Do you know about this B.C. community paper editorial about Trudeau being handsy with a reporter before he was in politics?”
I said I didn’t.
“Yes,” the anonymous correspondent wrote. “He had to write an apology to her.”
The anonymous correspondent wanted an email address to send a snapshot of the British Columbia community paper’s editorial. I gave it. A few minutes later, the August 2000 editorial, from the Creston Valley Advance, arrived. It described an encounter between the anonymous author of the editorial and Justin Trudeau at a beer festival.
The paper stated, as fact, that Trudeau had “handled” the female reporter and then, after learning that she also wrote for the National Post, apologized for touching her.
“I’m sorry,” the newspaper quoted Trudeau as saying the day after the incident. “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”
The editorial went on from there, criticizing the future prime minister for “groping a young woman” he didn’t know.
I checked the British Columbia archives. The editorial wasn’t fake news. It was real. I checked up on the reporter: she had indeed worked at the Creston Valley Advance. She is now married, living in a different western city, and no longer working in the news media. She didn’t want to talk, I was told.
Two questions. Why was the clipping sent to me? And why was it sent on June 6?
The answers were pretty obvious. June 6 was the same day that the conclusion of a report about former Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr was released, stating that he had acted “inappropriately” with young women 10 years earlier, while he had been serving in the Alberta legislature. Hehr would be kept out of cabinet as a result. Hehr apologized in a June 6 statement for “unintentionally” putting people in “uncomfortable situations,” and said he had apologized to one of the people who had complained about his behaviour, but said he did not recall meeting or speaking with her at the time of the alleged incident.
I had written extensively about the Hehr case, and had provided advice and support to one of the women who complained about his conduct. The anonymous correspondent had presumably selected me, on that day, because—if Kent Hehr should be kept out of cabinet for alleged unwanted sexual contact more than a decade earlier—well, then so should Justin Trudeau.
I asked the anonymous correspondent if I was right about that. “Agreed,” they said.
I wrote about the Hehr and Trudeau cases the next day, and suggested that they were indeed connected. Trudeau could hardly punish Hehr for alleged years-old sexual misconduct when he himself was apparently guilty of precisely the same thing. I also stated that, if Trudeau’s alleged victim—who the National Post later said was the author of the editorial—didn’t want to take the matter any further, then that was that.
In the #MeToo era, I wrote, the victims decide; not the media, not political people, the women.
Conservative partisans weren’t so interested in what she wanted. They hate the Liberal leader, and they wanted Trudeau to suffer the same fate as Kent Hehr, or worse. I gently reminded them that I also possessed similar, more-recent information about one of their own Conservative leaders, and they eventually went silent.
Media folks got in touch, too. They demanded the name of the woman Trudeau is said to have groped. They wanted me to do their job for them. I told them I wouldn’t. They got snarky.
(Oh, and parenthetically: the story had previously appeared in Frank magazine, apparently, but I didn’t know that at the time. I stopped reading Frank when they ran—and defended—a “contest” to “deflower” Caroline Mulroney back when Brian Mulroney was prime minister. Not exactly the best forum for the Creston Valley Advance editorial, I’d say.)
It pinged around Twitter and Facebook for a few days. Eventually, reluctantly, some mainstream media outlets started to write about it: the Hamilton Spectator, the Sun, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, even The New York Times. The Times implied that I had been in cahoots with Breitbart.
I wrote a letter to them, telling them I had worked for Hillary Clinton and that I had been active in supporting victims with #MeToo stories. I don’t know if they printed the letter or not.
Anyway. None of that matters so much, now. Only two things matter, at this point. One, how has Justin Trudeau responded to the woman’s allegation in the Creston Valley Advance? That’s a very important question.
The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, when asked about the “groping” allegation—and groping, in case you are wondering, is addressed in the Criminal Code as sexual touching without consent—had this to say:
“As the prime minister has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect. His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill, and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful. He remembers being in Creston for the Avalanche Foundation, but doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”
He “doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.” Not exactly a categorical denial.
So, that matters, and so does this: the young woman doesn’t want to say anything else about the incident. Until she says otherwise, then, she should remain what she is which is anonymous.
Warren Kinsella is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet staffer and a former provincial and federal election campaign war roomer.
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