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Updated: Mon, 26 Aug 2013 20:47:19 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Manitoba premier OKs deputy's 'white people' apology



Manitoba premier OKs deputy's 'white people' apology

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.

- Manitoba deputy premier sorry for 'white people' remark

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?'"

Robinson, who is aboriginal, wrote in response: "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. A shelter spokesperson said Judt is also expecting a personal apology from Robinson.

Comment not racist, minister insists

Robinson apologized for the comment on Friday and again on Monday, but he insisted that the reference to "do-good white people" is not racist.

"Of course not. You know, it was a general statement. It wasn't directed at anybody," Robinson told reporters on Monday.

When a reporter suggested to Robinson that the remark was "directed at white people," Robinson replied, "It was directed at white people, yeah, because I have a little bit of experience with non-aboriginal people and the way that sometimes they deal with aboriginal issues."

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.

The premier would not comment on whether Robinson's reference to "do-good white people" was racist.

"That's before the human rights commission, and I will leave it up to them to adjudicate on that. But he did acknowledge that it was an inappropriate choice of words and he's withdrawn them and apologized for that," Selinger said.

Robinson will stay in cabinet and retain his position as deputy premier, said Selinger, who called his deputy a respected leader.

Robinson is also Manitoba's minister of aboriginal and northern affairs.

'Ignorant and misinformed'

Also on Monday, Robinson maintained his belief that the Osborne House fundraiser was in poor taste.

"That commentary was made internally between a staff member and myself. It was about a particular event that I thought was not thought out properly. It was a burlesque show," he said.

Angela LaMuse, a professional burlesque performer who took part in the Osborne House fundraiser, said 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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