Justin Trudeau responded over the weekend to allegations that he acted “inappropriately” with a female reporter at music festival in 2000. The alleged incident was first reported shortly after it happened, in an unsigned editorial in the Creston Valley Advance, a small local paper in British Columbia. Under the headline “Open eyes,” the paper reported that Trudeau had apologized—“a day late”—to the paper’s reporter for “inappropriately ‘handling’ ” her at a local festival.
The young reporter was on assignment at the festival for the Advance as well as two national papers in Canada. “I’m sorry,” Trudeau is said to have told her a day after the incident. “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.” The editorial doesn’t say precisely what happened, and the woman told reporters who have recently contacted her that she wants nothing more to do with the story.
The story resurfaced in the Canadian media in April, when a political satire magazine reposted it in full. That post made the rounds on Twitter, and some conservative American sites, including Breitbart, picked it up. In early June, the National Post asked for comment, and a spokesman emailed the paper a statement saying Trudeau “remembers being in Creston for the Avalanche Foundation, but doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”
This past weekend, Trudeau closely echoed that language in responding to the story directly. “I remember that day in Creston well,” he told reporters who asked him about the incident at an event in Saskatchewan to celebrate Canada Day. “I had a good day that day. I don’t remember any negative interactions that day at all.”
The alleged “negative interactions” at the festival remain murky, but credible. The Creston Valley Advance’s then-publisher told the National Post that the young reporter came to her “distressed” after her interaction with Trudeau, which the unsigned editorial characterized as “groping a strange young woman.” The paper’s then-editor also told the Post that the reporter discussed the incident with him soon after it happened. Saying you don’t remember any negative interactions is a denial with a lot of wiggle room: that your memory is dim, or that the “interaction” didn’t feel “negative” to you in the moment.
Trudeau was a 28-year-old teacher at the time, but he had celebrity status as the son of a former prime minister. He appeared at the festival to accept a check on behalf of his family’s avalanche-safety charity, a cause he had gotten involved with when his brother died in an avalanche several years earlier. Photos from the festival show him enthusiastically hoisting an enormous beer stein into the air on a stage, wearing high-waisted pleated khakis and a pendant choker. Reports at the time note that he was inducted into something called the “Order of Sasquatch Hunters” at the festival, and hung out with a Saskatoon band called Wide Mouth Mason. Trudeau was not engaged or married at the time.
Sure, a passing “negative interaction” at a music festival might be a relatively minor offense compared to other sexual presumptions made by powerful men. But it’s an illustration of the ambient ickiness waiting for women in any space they occupy: when they’re on the job, when they’re in public, when the men around them are self-described feminists.
Trudeau’s father, Pierre, died the month after the music festival. At his state funeral, Trudeau delivered an emotional eulogy that launched him onto the national stage and catalyzed his career in politics. As prime minister, he has crafted a persona as a woke heartthrob. His wrote an essay for Marie Claire about raising boys as feminists and spoke at Davos about sexual harassment as a “systemic issue.” At a U.N. youth event last fall, he lambasted “bro culture” from the stage. “How we treat our sisters, our girlfriends, our cousins, our mothers and the world around us matters,” he said, as the crowd screamed with approval. “The world is changing, the rules are changing, but what they change into and how they change, depends not on leaders in government offices or in businesses, it depends on citizens, it depends on you.”