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Indigenous advocates slam Trudeau for comments about Patrick Brazeau

Justin Trudeau, left, and Patrick Brazeau fight during their charity boxing match in Ottawa in 2012.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Indigenous advocates are denouncing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent comments about Senator Patrick Brazeau in Rolling Stone magazine, saying his remarks could damage the Liberal government's relationship with aboriginal people.

In the U.S. magazine's August cover story, which asks "Why Can't He Be Our President?," Mr. Trudeau describes his surprise victory in a 2012 charity boxing match against Mr. Brazeau, a former Conservative who hails from the Kitigan Zibi First Nation in Quebec.

"I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled upon the scrappy tough-guy senator from an Indigenous community. He fit the bill, and it was a very nice counterpoint," Mr. Trudeau says in the article. "I saw it as the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell."

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First Nations leaders say the Prime Minister's remarks about Mr. Brazeau fly in the face of his government's commitment to a renewed relationship with Indigenous people.

"I was actually shocked to read that coming from someone who's been speaking about reconciliation and repairing relationships," said Pam Palmater, an associate professor and chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University in Toronto.

"To read this super-arrogant, super-racist comment was really disgusting."

Assembly of First Nations regional chief Roger Augustine, who represents New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, said Mr. Trudeau's comments about Mr. Brazeau could undermine his government's message.

"To describe him like that is demeaning," Mr. Augustine said. "It's not a professional way for anyone to talk."

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Cindy Blackstock, a First Nations' children's advocate and social-work professor at McGill University, said Mr. Trudeau's comments play into a narrative about colonialization "where Indigenous peoples are the savages and the non-Indigenous people are the civilized."

"It's unfortunate," Prof. Blackstock said. "He's using Indigenous peoples to try and emphasize the good qualities about himself.

"That really reinforces a lot of negative stereotypes about Indigenous peoples," she added.

She said Mr. Trudeau's remarks lead to more questions about the Prime Minister's commitment to an equal relationship with Canada's Indigenous peoples. Mr. Trudeau recently suggested the government is not providing First Nations with the same level of funding for child welfare and health services available off-reserve because native communities do not yet know how they would spend additional funds.

"As a pattern, it's concerning," Prof. Blackstock said. She called on Mr. Trudeau to clarify his remarks to ensure they aren't repeated in the future.

Robert Jago, a First Nations activist and writer, said many minority men are familiar with the stereotyping that Mr. Brazeau faced because of his race.

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"It's sad to see Trudeau not just buying into that stereotype, but using it for political gain," he wrote in an e-mail. "If Trudeau believed in reconciliation, I'd think that he would be striving to show common cause with his fellow parliamentarians of Indigenous ancestry, not objectifying them as he has Brazeau."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said Mr. Trudeau's commitment to reconciliation can be measured by his actions. "He has made it clear that there is no relationship more important to him – and to our government – than reconciliation with Indigenous peoples," spokesman Cameron Ahmad said in an e-mail. This includes launching a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, which is now seen by many as troubled, as well as billions of new dollars promised for education, health and social development on reserves.

"We are fully committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship and to reconciliation," Mr. Ahmad said.

Mr. Brazeau declined an interview request. In a message to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network last week about the Rolling Stone article, he wrote, "I'll take it as a compliment."

Mr. Brazeau has seen his share of troubles. He returned to the Senate in 2016 as an independent after a long judicial saga, including charges relating to housing expenses that were later dropped. He was kicked out of the Conservative caucus in 2013 after being arrested following a domestic-violence call to police. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to reduced charges related to assault and cocaine possession and received an unconditional discharge.

Video: Justin Trudeau upstaged by daughter Ella-Grace at Calgary event (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

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