“On the surface it is not a very good idea and moreover further exploits an already vulnerable group in society. It also further demonstrates the ignorance of do-good white people without giving it a second thought.”
— Manitoba deputy premier Eric Robinson
Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt is likely quite right when she called an apology from Eric Robinson “false and insincere,” especially in light of comments the deputy premier made to APTN television only one day earlier.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reported yesterday, the apology and Judt’s rejection of it stem from a Nov. 22 email exchange between Robinson and Nahannai Fontaine, special adviser on aboriginal women’s issues, which came to light following an access to information request made by Judt last December.
In a series of messages, Robinson responds to a concern from Fontaine regarding a Free Press story about a burlesque-show fundraiser sponsored by a Winnipeg clothing shop in support of Osborne House, which is a shelter for abused and battered women.
The last two lines of the email — lines that were supposed to be blacked out but that are easily read when held up to the light — are in the quote at the top of this editorial.
After APTN broke the story last week, one of the television station’s reporters asked the deputy premier whether he regretted his choice of words.
A defiant Robinson said “No, absolutely not,” and later in the interview he said he’s “always spoken” what he felt and didn’t think he had to apologize for the email.
One day later — Friday afternoon — he issued an apology through cabinet communications.
In the wording of his apology, Robinson states that he “still feels the event was in poor taste and could have been better thought out, given the clientele of Osborne House are women who have been exploited and victimized.”
We don’t necessarily disagree with him. A burlesque show does seem to be an odd way to raise money to help abused and battered women. Certainly the idea could have been better thought out.
But that hardly excuses a minister — or anyone, really — for making such blatantly racist comments. First Nations people shouldn’t have to tolerate hateful words made by the ignorant, but neither should any other race. Make no mistake, he plainly believes what he said, and the apology issued last Friday was likely not of his doing, but made on his behalf.
The apparent fact that — according to Judt — neither Robinson nor Fontaine have ever bothered to witness for themselves the work of Osborne House just adds fuel to the fire.
Judt is also under the impression that there is an element of sexism involved in the minister’s comments. She has since filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and has publicly asked why Premier Greg Selinger has not intervened and sanctioned Robinson for his comments.
We’re not entirely convinced of the sexism angle. It seems to us that when a government goes out of its way to create and sustain race-based policies, it drives a wedge between peoples and creates an “us versus them” mentality. In Robinson’s case, he got caught expressing that mentality.
And that’s what bothers us the most. Why was the quote printed above ever blacked out in the first place? What meddling — and obviously bungling — government bureaucrat thought to protect the minister by attempting to eliminate a potentially damaging comment? Were they given a directive by Robinson? If so, why are government ministers privy to incoming freedom of information requests — something that is strictly forbidden.
Even if he wasn’t aware of the FIPPA request, this is still an abuse of the legislation, but considering this long-in-the-tooth government, it’s not surprising. Once a government has been in power as long as the NDP, typically the majority of their bureaucrats tend to be government-friendly as well.
Time for a new government. Time to clean house.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 27, 2013