Last week, Canadian Prime Minster and self-described feminist Justin Trudeau addressed for the first time publicly a groping allegation dating back 18 years that has increasingly become a thorn in his side. Shortly after his vague denial to the press, the accuser, a former journalist, "reluctantly" broke her silence.
The allegation was first leveled against Trudeau in an unsigned op-ed published by the Creston Valley Advance in 2000, just days after a music festival in Creston, British Columbia. The Canadian Press reports:
In the days that followed, an editorial appeared in the Creston Valley Advance alleging Trudeau had apologized to an unnamed female reporter at the newspaper after “groping” her at the event. It alleged he told the woman he would not have “been so forward” if he had known she was reporting for a national newspaper.
The unsigned editorial resurfaced recently and has led to calls for the prime minister to address the allegations.
Amid mounting pressure to address the allegation, Trudeau told the Canadian Press last Sunday that he remembers the day of the alleged groping incident "well," but does not remember "any negative interactions that day at all."
"I remember that day in Creston well, it was an Avalanche Foundation event to support avalanche safety," said the prime minister. "I had a good day that day. I don’t remember any negative interactions that day at all."
Later in the week, he elaborated on his defense. "I do not feel that I acted inappropriately in any way, but I respect the fact that someone else might have experienced that differently," he told the press. Asked if he was going to open an investigation into the issue to be consistent with his "zero tolerance" policy on sexual assault, the prime minister sidestepped the question by repeating his assertion of innocence. "Often a man experiences an interaction as being benign or not inappropriate and a woman, particularly in a professional context, can experience it differently. We have to respect that," he said.
On Friday, his accuser, former journalist Rose Knight, broke her 18-year silence in a statement to CBC that seems to contradict Trudeau's denial.
"I issue this statement reluctantly, in response to mounting media pressure to confirm that I was the reporter who was the subject of the Open Eyes editorial, published in the Creston Valley Advance in August of 2000," wrote Knight. "The incident referred to in the editorial did occur, as reported. Mr. Trudeau did apologize the next day. I did not pursue the incident at the time and will not be pursuing the incident further. I have had no subsequent contact with Mr. Trudeau, before or after he became Prime Minister."
Knight concluded by underscoring that she will make no further comment on the matter. "The debate, if it continues, will continue without my involvement," she wrote.
In its coverage of the scandal, AFP notes that when Trudeau came to power, he made a point of portraying himself as a feminist, even forming a cabinet that was equally represented by men and women.