By Melissa Ridgen
Manitoba’s deputy premier and Aboriginal Affairs minister stands by comments made in email obtained by APTN National News in which the he refers to the “ignorance of do-good white people.”
A three-line email from Eric Robinson, NDP MLA for Kewatinook, dated Nov. 22, 2012, was sent to the province’s special advisor on Aboriginal women’s issues, Nahanni Fontaine. A copy was obtained though the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act [FIPPA]. It begins in response to an email from Fontaine outlining her concerns about a media report that a Winnipeg clothing store, The Foxy Shoppe, was holding a burlesque fundraiser, proceeds of which would go to Osborne House, a provincially-funded shelter for battered women.
“This is SO bad and looks SO bad and is simply a bad idea on the part of the Osborne House ED [executive director],” Fontaine wrote to Robinson. “Like what was she thinking? Did the [Osborne House] board approve this ‘fundraiser'”?
Robinson replied, “I know nothing of this matter and haven’t seen today’s freep [Winnipeg Free Press] but I will now.” The remaining two lines of the email are then blacked out.
But when held to a certain light, the type under the black bar that is used to hide the blacked out words shows the words: “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.”
When contacted by APTN, the deputy premier said, “The comment was internal between myself and some staff members. I don’t deny writing what I wrote which was about what white do-gooders are trying to do.”
Asked if he was referring to The Foxy Shoppe or Osborne House executive and board, he said it was a “general statement” not specific to anyone. He went on to add he is “absolutely not” sorry for what he said and would “probably not” apologize if asked by Premier Greg Selinger and “probably not” resign if someone asked him to.
“I don’t think [the fundraiser] sent a good message then, nor do I think that was a good message to this day.”
Robinson doesn’t believe the comment will affect his role as deputy premier in dealings with the non-Aboriginal community.
“I have a good record championing issues of violence against women and murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls.”
Robinson points out that of the 180 or so women and children who show up at the shelter each month, 80 per cent are Aboriginal.
The FIPPA office said its decision to redact the minister’s inflammatory comment was covered under Sec 23 (1)(a) of the Act to protect against material that would “reveal advice, opinions, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for the public body or a minister.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists president Hugo Rodrigues questions that explanation.
“The challenge we have with a lot of freedom of information legislation is it allows a big clause on ‘advice given to’ and there’s not a lot of guidance to the person interpreting the act,” he said.
Rodrigues adds the public pays for politicians and government staff and should have reasonable access to their professional discussions, otherwise “what is the purpose of having freedom of information access in the first place?”
This is the second time in as many weeks for the Selinger government has made news for questionable remarks. Last week, backbench NDP MLA David Gaudreau was stripped of his caucus duties after uttering a gay slur to a Conservative opponent in the Legislature. He later apologized.
(Aug. 23, 11:54 AM: Updated with clarifications from Minister Robinson’s office.)