Shawinigan Handshake

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Chrétien grasping Clennett with the Shawinigan Handshake.

Shawinigan Handshake is the epithet given to a chokehold executed on February 15, 1996 by Jean Chrétien, then Prime Minister of Canada, on anti-poverty protester Bill Clennett. The phrase comes from Chrétien's birthplace of Shawinigan, Quebec, as the former prime minister often styled himself the "little guy from Shawinigan".

The incident[edit]

On the day of the incident, Chrétien was in Hull, Quebec to commemorate the first National Flag of Canada Day. As Chrétien addressed the assembled crowd, anti-poverty activists heckled the Prime Minister over proposed changes to Canada's unemployment insurance program, and, as he made his way to his limousine at the cessation of the ceremonies, Chrétien was confronted by Clennett. At that moment, Chrétien grabbed Clennett by the back of the neck and chin, forcing Clennett to the ground and breaking one of his teeth.[1] Another protester that then blocked Chrétien's passage had his megaphone knocked away by the Prime Minister, and was promptly pushed to the ground by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers.[2]

Chrétien later defended these actions, stating: "some people came my way... and I had to go, so if you're in my way...."[2] He also blamed the RCMP for allowing Clennett to obtain such close proximity to the Prime Minister, though the RCMP said they saw no breach of security.[2] Chrétien also demonstrated a casual attitude towards the affair, later joking that he had used the Shawinigan Handshake because he mistook Clennett for John Nunziata, whom Chrétien had dismissed from the Liberal caucus for voting against the 1996 budget.

Reform Party Member of Parliament Deborah Grey subsequently nicknamed Chrétien "The Shawinigan Strangler". This sobriquet was later used by other opposition MPs as well; in a member's statement on February 12, 1997, Chuck Strahl sarcastically nominated Chrétien for a "Parliamentary Oscar" for his "performance" in The Shawinigan Strangler.[3]

While Clennett did not press charges against the Prime Minister, another person, Kenneth Russell, did accuse Chrétien of assault on March 28, and the Prime Minister was formally charged by a judge in the Quebec Superior Court. These charges, however, were rejected by the Attorney General of Quebec.[2]

Bill Clennett[edit]

Bill Clennett has since run for provincial office, standing as a Québec solidaire candidate in Hull in Quebec's 2007 and 2008 provincial elections.[4] Bill Clennett and his team ranked third in 2008 after the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Parti Québécois, beating the Action démocratique du Québec, the Quebec Green Party, and the Independence Party.


  1. ^ "Prescott not the first to pack a punch". CNN, May 17, 2001.
  2. ^ a b c d Moscovitz, Jason (1996-02-15). "1996: Chrétien extends a 'Shawinigan handshake'". CBC News. Toronto. Archived from the original on 2013-02-15. Retrieved 2013-02-15. 
  3. ^ Statements by Members. Hansard, February 12, 1997.
  4. ^ Activist grabbed by Chrétien runs for office., February 23, 2007.

External links[edit]