Elbowgate was an incident in which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "manhandled" two opposition members of parliament—grabbing one Conservative Member of Parliament by the arm and then elbowing a New Democrat Member of Parliament in the chest—in the House of Commons on May 18, 2016. Trudeau subsequently apologized and avoided parliamentary sanctions for the incident.
The event took place as opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) sought to delay a closure motion on the final reading of Bill C-14, a bill to amend the Criminal Code to allow physician-assisted death.
Numerous MPs, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May, have suggested that Trudeau's actions may be explained by the time-sensitive nature of this bill, which had to be passed before the Supreme Court invalidated certain sections of the Criminal Code that could have put voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted death in a legislative grey area. Opposition parties "accused the government of trying to ram it through the House and Senate using various strategies such as assigning a time limit to debate". NDP MP Charlie Angus stated that there was a toxic atmosphere in the House as “[The Liberals] were introducing motions that would give enormous power to the ministers. That was basically putting a nuclear weapon on the table. They could call a debate at two in the morning with a vote at three. It became a very torturous, toxic place. That’s not how the Westminster system works. As opposition, you have very few tools. Sometimes you have a slow vote—it’s a tactic. The Speaker hadn’t made any move that there was a problem. The vote had been delayed all of 30 seconds or a minute.”
As the Conservative's Chief Opposition Whip Gord Brown was moving down the opposition side of the aisle toward his seat, NDP leader Tom Mulcair and two NDP MPs (Ruth Ellen Brosseau and David Christopherson) attempted to block Brown in an effort to delay the vote. Canadian parliamentary custom has it that before a vote begins the Government and Official Opposition Whips walk into the House together after the bell has rung, walk up the aisle on their own sides, then sit down after bowing toward the Speaker and each other.
The Chief Government Whip, Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, and Government House Leader, Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, had walked down their side of the aisle. However, Brown was unable to move past the three NDP MPs. In an interview with CBC News, Green Party leader Elizabeth May affirmed that the NDP members were deliberately seeking to disrupt proceedings in their obstinate refusal to clear the aisle. After seeing the situation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crossed the floor of the House and headed towards Brown. Trudeau then grabbed Brown's arm to steer him through the group and allegedly shouted to the other MPs "Get the fuck out of my way." In the confusion, Trudeau elbowed Brosseau in the chest.
Immediately following the incident, Brosseau told the House she felt overwhelmed and went to sit in the lobby. Brosseau missed the vote as a result. The incident prompted a shouting match between Trudeau and Mulcair, in which Mulcair yelled to Trudeau “What kind of man elbows a woman? You’re pathetic.” Brown said in a statement to media that he told Trudeau to “let go of me – now", and recommended that Trudeau should not have gotten out of his seat to confront the other Opposition MPs.
The Elbowgate incident provoked multiple responses from various Members of Parliament:
- Interim Conservative Party of Canada Leader, Rona Ambrose, tweeted that Trudeau's actions "are worthy of the strongest condemnation of this House."
- Conservative MP Peter Van Loan suggested following the proceedings of a "Physical Molestation" matter.
- NDP MP Pierre Nantel was quoted as seeing the incident with "such determination that it was clear he was furious and determined to make it physical."
- NDP MP Niki Ashton believed that the matter should be considered assault. MP Ashton also associated this as an intentional gender-based action after being quoted to saying "What I will say, if we apply a gendered lens, it is very important that young women in this space feel safe to come here and work here...He made us feel unsafe and we're deeply troubled by the conduct of the prime minister of this country."
- Conservative MP Lisa Raitt made an indirect reference to Jian Ghomeshi, who was on trial for sexual harassment.
- Conservative MP Peter Kent suggested that Trudeau's actions were in contempt of Parliament.
- NDP MP Peter Julian compared the incident to the violent outbreaks in other countries.
- Conservative MP Michael Cooper said he considered the actions criminal assault.
- Conservative MP Jason Kenney called it "physical bullying of MPs. Bizarre, unforgivable, unprecedented." and "If Stephen Harper had ever physically bullied MPs like Justin Trudeau, there would be immediate & widespread demands for his resignation."
Political commentators and satirists also commented on the incident:
- Comedian John Oliver, in a Last Week Tonight segment, commented that Trudeau should not have done what he did, but also compared the contact to that one might expect shopping at a New York Trader Joe's. Acknowledging Trudeau's multiple apologies immediately following the incident, he joked that Trudeau would be expected to "spend the remainder of his term... apologizing for the existence of his arm".
- Progressive political commentator Cenk Uygur said that Trudeau had "bumped into" Brosseau. He was also critical of Brosseau for claiming she was so overwhelmed she needed to leave the chamber and miss the vote.
- Montreal Gazette copy editor Steve Faguy joked "Trudeau clearing people away was the only solution to this problem", highlighting the large empty space Brown could have used to return to his seat and marked it "Dragons?"
- Retired NHL hockey referee Kerry Fraser broke down the incident into hockey penalties: interference; elbowing; diving; unsportsmanlike conduct, a game misconduct, and a ten-game suspension; unsportsmanlike conduct and a five-game suspension, as well as typical hockey phrases like chirping, bench clearing, and going to the dressing room for repairs.
The following day, MPs spent five hours discussing the altercation. Trudeau apologized to the House several times for his actions. Brosseau said the public later accused her, in telephone calls to her office, of "crying wolf." The all-party Committee on Procedure and House Affairs decided on May 31, 2016, that Trudeau would face no scrutiny or parliamentary sanctions for the incident, a decision that paralleled public opinion on the matter; according to polls taken the week after the incident, the majority of Canadians indicated that they saw the incident as "no big deal" or a "momentary lapse of judgement".
Trudeau made apologies for the incident three times over the following two days. Brosseau formally accepted Trudeau's apology and stated she hoped MPs would "work to ensure that we never see this conduct repeated". An all-party committee also accepted Trudeau's apology and determined there would be no parliamentary sanctions nor further calls for apologies.
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The NDP is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of elbowing New Democrat MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau .. Mulcair can be heard on Commons video footage yelling at Trudeau: “What kind of man elbows a woman? You’re pathetic.” .. Brosseau returned to confirm what happened to her and pointed the finger at Trudeau. “I was elbowed in the chest by the prime minister and then I had to leave,” she said.
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