First Nations chiefs apologize after Trudeau's "paternalistic" and "sexist" comments on Trans Mountain


OTTAWA (Reuters) – A group of First Nations chiefs are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize for making "paternalistic" and "sexist" comments, further heightening tensions over Ottawa's controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The demand for an apology came after Trudeau answered questions from Judy Wilson, head of the Neskonlith Indian Band in B.C., during a meeting with the First Nations Assembly on Wednesday. Wilson said Ottawa's support for pipeline expansion is not in line with the prime minister's address to the United Nations last year in which he described Canada's past relationship with the indigenous people as one of "humiliation, neglect and abuse" , and promised to introduce policies that will help First Nations toward self-determination.

"When you're talking about the United Nations and you're going with self-determination and consent, why has not this been applied to the Trans Mountain pipeline that's going through 513 kilometers of our territory?" Wilson asked.

In response, Trudeau said there are "many reasons" for people to support the Trans Mountain project and that Canadians should "respect people's choices to support or not support" such developments. "And I do not think we should criticize them just because they do not agree with you, Judy," he added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heard a question after addressing the Assembly of First Nations Special Heads of Assembly in Ottawa on Tuesday, 4 December 2018.

Sean Kilpatrick / CP

The Union of British Indigenous Chiefs of British Columbia demanded an apology for these comments in a statement late Wednesday, saying that Trudeau was "patronizing and offensive as well as menacing."

"You responded by using your first name, which was completely disrespectful and ignored the protocol," the letter said.

UBCIC also said that Trudeau used an "overtly sexist approach" in the discussions because he rejected Wilson's comments while taking a more sympathetic tone in response to a male boss's questions about the ostensibly flawed pipeline consultation process Trans Mountain.

In his response to Lee Spahan, head of the Coldwater Indian Band, Trudeau admitted that Ottawa "did not do a good job" in its previous consultations on the project, the UBCIC statement said.

"No relationship is more important to our government than it is to indigenous people," Matt Pascuzzo, a press secretary for the prime minister's office, said in an e-mail to the National Post. Pascuzzo said Ottawa is "engaging 117 indigenous groups" in Trans Mountain, and said it "will take the time to move forward in the right way." He did not directly answer a question about whether Trudeau would apologize.

Tensions point to a growing divide between Ottawa and opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which worsened after Trudeau decided to buy the pipeline for $ 4.5 billion in August. Construction of the Trans Mountain expansion was postponed after a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal forced Ottawa to repeat a portion of its consultations with the First Nations groups before the bill could move forward.

Trudeau and his ministers have remained aloud in their support for the expansion of the pipeline, claiming that both can support it and be a global leader in climate change. Meanwhile, the energy industry has become increasingly critical of the Liberal government amid record rebates for Canadian producers.

On Thursday morning, UBCIC also demanded that Ottawa revisit its decision to support the Trans Mountain project. Environmental activists and some First Nations communities have suggested that Ottawa's decision to set timelines for its second round of consultations suggests that its position on the pipeline is predetermined.

"Actual consent is not manipulated and is not rushed because of a quick timeframe of government or biased interests," Wilson said in a written statement Thursday morning. "Canada is in clear conflict as buyers of the pipeline and having to fulfill its fiduciary duty with First Nations as the Crown."

Oral hearings for First Nations groups as part of the re-doing of the Indigenous Consultation Process of the Trans Mountain National Energy Council began Nov. 20 in Calgary, and concluded this week in Nanaimo, B.C.

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