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Manitoba premier OKs deputy's 'white people' apology

08/26/2013 04:49 EDT | Updated 10/26/2013 05:12 EDT
Manitoba's deputy premier, Eric Robinson, will stay in cabinet after apologizing for using the phrase "do-good white people" in an email about a fundraiser for a women's shelter, says Premier Greg Selinger.

Selinger told reporters on Monday that he accepts Robinson's apology, which the deputy premier first issued on Friday after internal government emails surfaced about the fundraiser held last year for Osborne House.

Hosted by a Winnipeg clothing shop, the Osborne House fundraiser featured a burlesque performance, prompting criticism from Nahanni Fontaine, the province's special advisor on women's issues.

In an internal email sent to Robinson and other civil servants, Fontaine called burlesque "a total disregard for women's and girls' dignity and sacredness" and said the fundraiser was "blatantly stupid."

"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?'"

In response, Robinson, who is aboriginal, wrote, "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 emails were obtained through Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) requests by Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt.

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

Comments 'unfortunate,' says premier

Robinson apologized for the "do-good white people" comment on Friday, but he has maintained that the fundraiser was in poor taste.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister is calling for Robinson to be removed from cabinet, saying the deputy premier's comment was very inappropriate.

We've had a comment from the deputy premier of Manitoba that is racist in nature, disrespectful," Pallister said.

"It's not acceptable. It doesn't reflect the values of Manitobans who oppose racism in all its forms. It is beneath contempt, and the minister needs to be removed from his position."

But Selinger said the apology for Robinson is sufficient, adding that his remarks were "unfortunate" but made privately in an intergovernmental email.

Robinson will stay in cabinet and retain his position as deputy premier, said Selinger, who called his deputy a respected leader. Robinson is also the minister for aboriginal and northern affairs.

On Monday, Robinson said what he wrote in the email was not racist or a statement directed at anyone, but he reiterated his apology anyway.

Robinson also told reporters that he has experienced racism all his life and has heard worse things said about himself.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Osborne House said the shelter wants a direct apology from Robinson.

'Ignorant and misinformed'

Angela LaMuse, a professional burlesque performer who took part in the Osborne House fundraiser, says the comments by Robinson and Fontaine are "ignorant and misinformed."

"I am disappointed that they are in, you know, influential positions," LaMuse told CBC News.

"I'm just hoping that they will maybe take an opportunity to learn from this experience and maybe actually try to figure out what burlesque is, because they really have no idea."

LaMuse said she is a feminist and has worked at many fundraising events, adding that the women's shelter does important work and needs as much support as it can get.

"She doesn't know anything about me or what I do," LaMuse said, referring to Fontaine's remarks.

"They're very ignorant, misinformed comments that just aren't true."

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