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Wife of Winnipeg mayoral candidate apologizes for 'drunken native' remarks

WINNIPEG - The wife of a Winnipeg mayoral candidate apologized Friday for referring four years ago to aboriginal panhandlers as "drunken native guys" who collect welfare and harass people.

Lorrie Steeves, whose husband, Gord Steeves, is considered among the frontrunners of the campaign, made the comments in 2010 on her Facebook page. They only came to light Friday after being circulated to reporters and others via an anonymous Twitter account.

The comments, which were still online Friday afternoon, surfaced on the same day Gord Steeves made a campaign promise to crack down on public intoxication on downtown streets, primarily by having more police officers and cadets in key areas.

In the post, Lorrie Steeves wrote that she was "really tired of getting harassed by the drunken native guys in the skywalks. We need to get these people educated so they can go make their own damn money instead of hanging out and harassing the honest people."

The post also says "we all donate enough money to the government to keep their sorry asses on welfare, so shut the (expletive) up and don't ask for another handout."

Friday evening, Steeves released a short written statement to say she was sorry. She and her husband declined interview requests.

"In 2010, while I was working downtown, I was regularly harassed for money and often put in a position where I feared for my safety," she said in the statement. "One day in particular ... was very bad and out of frustration I vented on my personal Facebook page. I feel terrible about these comments. I am terribly sorry and apologize."

Grand Chief Terry Nelson, of the Southern Chiefs Organization, said he wasn't shocked by the comments, and said they are not uncommon among non-natives.

"Racism is well-concealed," said Nelson, whose group represents First Nations in southern Manitoba. "Most people don't come out with it publicly, but at private dinners or with people conversing with each other, that usually happens.

"I don't necessarily see the rest of the candidates as being more tolerant or non-racist."

The revelation is bound to hurt Steeves' campaign, but is not necessarily fatal, according to one political analyst.

"I think it is possible to survive it, given that he wasn't the one that said it, but it's certainly not good for his campaign," said Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba.

"We need to think about whether candidates should be held accountable for comments that their partners make, or their kids make or their friends make. We need to kind of wonder whether we're going down a slippery slope ... without condoning these specific comments, which of course are very, very ugly."

Steeves was a councillor at the time his wife, a paralegal, posted the Facebook comments. He resigned from council in 2011 and ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the legislature. He is one of eight candidates in the race to replace Sam Katz, who is not seeking re-election. Winnipeg residents go to the polls Oct. 22.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Lorrie Steeves is a lawyer.

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