10/02/2013 12:47 EDT | Updated 12/02/2013 05:12 EST

New documents show Manitoba minister rejected initial draft apology

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister rejected an initial draft apology for comments he made referring to ignorant white people, documents obtained by The Canadian Press show.

The documents, released under the province's freedom-of-information law, shed new light on the government's response to a controversy that erupted after Eric Robinson criticized a burlesque show fundraiser at the Osborne House women's shelter in Winnipeg.

Robinson had told a staffer in his department that the fundraiser was inappropriate and revealed the "ignorance of do-good white people."

On Aug. 23, shortly after the comments became public knowledge, Matt Williamson, the press secretary to both Robinson and Premier Greg Selinger, emailed Robinson with a draft apology that said, "I regret the comment I made in an email to staff and I apologize."

The draft apology would also have had Robinson say that he has the "deepest respect" for the work done at the women's shelter. Williamson asked Robinson to call him to discuss the wording.

An hour later, after the phone call, Williamson sent a revised version that apologized only for the words Robinson chose. It was that version that Robinson released as a written statement to the media.

"Upon further reflection and discussion with the premier, the words I chose in the moment were regrettable, and for that I apologize," the reworked version stated.

The apology was quickly dismissed by the head of the women's shelter as half-hearted and insincere.

Three days later, Robinson told reporters no one made him apologize and he had used his own words.

"Nobody forced me to say anything. It was a statement I wrote myself," Robinson said at the time.

Robinson was not available for an interview Wednesday. Williamson said even though he wrote the reworked apology, it was based on Robinson's words.

"(Robinson) asked me to draft a statement he could put into his own words," Williamson wrote in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

"I did so and sent it to him. He called and told me the words he wanted to use. I redrafted based on that conversation and sent him another version in his words."

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives said the documents show Robinson watered down what was supposed to be a full apology.

"It leaves a lot of questions with regards to his honesty, with regards to his sincerity on the issue," said Leanne Rowat, the Tory critic for the status of women.

"I'm just not sure that his apology was honest in any way, when you withdraw something that unequivocally would have apologized across the board and held more weight."

Selinger has rejected opposition demands to reprimand Robinson, who is also the province's deputy premier. Selinger said in August that Robinson is staying in cabinet because he has done a good job.

Robinson has at times contradicted himself on the Osborne House issue. He initially told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that he would not apologize for the comments. He then issued his written apology.

The following week, he was pressed by reporters on what precisely he was apologizing for. He defended his use of the term ignorance, but said one of his regrets was using the term "white people".

"Maybe I should have used non-aboriginal."

The newly released documents also show Robinson's office received a handful of emails from voters, both for and against his comments.

"I agree that Minister Eric Robinson was not being racist, but was rather answering racism within the racial context of the situation," one person wrote.

"How dare you minimize what has happened to me and all women just because I look white to you," wrote another.

The names of the writers were redacted from the files released to The Canadian Press under a section of the freedom-of-information law that exempts personal information.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Matthew Williamson was only the premier's press secretary