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Chrétien extends a ‘Shawinigan handshake’

The Story


Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is in Hull, Que., on Feb. 15, 1996, to commemorate the first National Flag of Canada Day. But the celebration is upstaged by a bizarre altercation. When confronted by protester Bill Clennett, Chrétien grabs Clennett's throat and forces him to the ground. This un-prime-ministerial response startles everyone, especially Chrétien's victim. "He came... and put me to the ground," Clennett describes in this TV clip.

The 44-year-old man was part of a small but vocal group protesting planned cuts to unemployment insurance benefits. The prime minister, a self-described "little guy from Shawinigan," defends his actions. "Some people came my way... and I had to go, so if you're in my way," says Chrétien before driving away.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 15, 1996
Guests: Jean Chrétien, Bill Clennett, Sheila Copps, André Guertin, Lawrence Martin
Reporter: Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 3:02

Did You know?


• Jean Chrétien was the Liberal prime minister from 1993 to 2003.

• Chrétien had come face-to-face with protesters when he spontaneously decided to wade into the crowd. His chokehold takedown manoeuvre was quickly dubbed the "Shawinigan handshake."

• Chrétien joked about the "Shawinigan handshake" incident by saying he mistook Clennett for expelled Liberal caucus member John Nunziata. He was charged with assault not by Clennett but by the Quebec court. But in May the case was dismissed by the Quebec attorney general, Paul Bégin.

• Chrétien later blamed the RCMP security guards for allowing Clennett to get so close to him.

• Lax RCMP security was also blamed for the slow response to a knife-wielding intruder at the prime minister's residence. On Nov. 5, 1995, André Dallaire broke into 24 Sussex Drive and confronted Chrétien and his wife, Aline. The couple locked themselves in their bedroom and waited for the RCMP to arrive, which they did, seven minutes later. Chrétien later described how he had armed himself with an Inuit bird carving for self-defense.

• Dallaire, a paranoid schizophrenic, was later found guilty but not criminally responsible for attempted murder.
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