NEWS

Manitoba deputy premier sorry for 'white people' remark

08/23/2013 01:21 EDT | Updated 10/23/2013 05:12 EDT
Manitoba's deputy premier, Eric Robinson, is under fire for using the phrase "do-good white people" in an email about a fundraiser for a women's shelter.

A Winnipeg clothing shop featured a burlesque performance last year during a fundraiser for Osborne House. That prompted criticism from the province's special advisor on women's issues, Nahanni Fontaine.

She sent an email to Robinson and other civil servants, expressing her disappointment that Osborne House, a women's shelter, approved the fundraiser.

"This is so bad and looks so bad … and is simply a bad idea on the part of Osborne House ED [executive director]," Fontaine wrote. "Like, what was she thinking? Did the board approve this 'fundraiser?"

Robinson responded by saying, "On the surface it's not a very good idea and moreover exploits an already vulnerable group in society. It also further demonstrates the ignorance of do good white people without giving it a second thought."

The internal provincial government emails were obtained through Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) requests by Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt.

She has sent a letter to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission with her concerns and has written to Fontaine demanding an apology.

"You made an entirely false allegation that I had initiated and entered into what you characterized as a 'partnership' with a performer for a fundraiser," Judt wrote.

"I have never, to this day, met or spoken with that performer. But you did not let the facts get in the way of your agenda."

As a result, a number of department officials within Family Services have incorporated that into their advice to government on whether Osborne House is being run properly.

A spokesperson for Robinson said the deputy minister is not available for interviews but will issue a statement later in the day.

On Friday, Judt released a statement, saying Robinson’s comments were racist. She said neither Fontaine nor Robinson had visited Osborne House.

“Osbourne House has felt the wrath of intimidation from senior level bureaucrats this past fiscal year,” Judt went on to say. She said funding requests were denied and the organization was the victim of “retaliation and bullying.”

Judt called on Premier Greg Selinger to reprimand Robinson for the comments.

“Many good things have been accomplished by the CEO and Board to deliver support and counselling to the battered women who cross our doorstep,” she said. She added, “What is especially offensive about Robinson’s racial smear is that many of our supporters are aboriginal and that our Board chair is herself aboriginal.”

Late Friday afternoon, Robinson apologized for his remarks in a statement to CBC.

"I did not mean to offend anyone with the words I used," he said.

He said he recognizes the importance of the work Osbourne House does, and after speaking with Selinger, he regretted the words he chose.

"The words I chose in the moment were regrettable, and for that I apologize," he said.

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