Manitoba's deputy premier, Eric Robinson, is under fire for using the phrase "do-good white people" in an email about a fundraiser for a women's shelter.
A Winnipeg clothing shop featured a burlesque performance last year during a fundraiser for Osborne House. That prompted criticism from the province's special advisor on women's issues, Nahanni Fontaine.
She sent an email to Robinson and other civil servants, expressing her disappointment that Osborne House, a women's shelter, approved the fundraiser.
"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 responded by saying, "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 provincial government emails were obtained through Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) requests by Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt.
Eric Robinson's full apology
The work Osborne House does is important for our community, especially Aboriginal women who are suffering from the generational effects of discrimination and exploitation. I did not mean to offend anyone with the words I used. I still feel the event was in poor taste and could have been better thought out, given the clientele of Osborne House are women who have been exploited and victimized. Upon further reflection and discussion with the Premier, the words I chose in the moment were regrettable, and for that I apologize.
She has sent a letter to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission with her concerns and has written to Fontaine demanding an apology.
"You made an entirely false allegation that I had initiated and entered into what you characterized as a 'partnership' with a performer for a fundraiser," Judt wrote.
"I have never, to this day, met or spoken with that performer. But you did not let the facts get in the way of your agenda."
As a result, a number of department officials within Family Services have incorporated that into their advice to government on whether Osborne House is being run properly.
A spokesperson for Robinson said the deputy minister is not available for interviews but will issue a statement later in the day.
On Friday, Judt released a statement, saying Robinson’s comments were racist. She said neither Fontaine nor Robinson had visited Osborne House.
"Osbourne House has felt the wrath of intimidation from senior level bureaucrats this past fiscal year," Judt went on to say. She said funding requests were denied and the organization was the victim of "retaliation and bullying."
Judt called on Premier Greg Selinger to reprimand Robinson for the comments.
"Many good things have been accomplished by the CEO and Board to deliver support and counselling to the battered women who cross our doorstep," she said. She added, "What is especially offensive about Robinson’s racial smear is that many of our supporters are aboriginal and that our Board chair is herself aboriginal."
Late Friday afternoon, Robinson apologized for his remarks in a statement to CBC.
"I did not mean to offend anyone with the words I used," he said.
He said he recognizes the importance of the work Osbourne House does, and after speaking with Selinger, he regretted the words he chose.
"The words I chose in the moment were regrettable, and for that I apologize," he said.
Full statement from Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt
As CEO of the women's shelter Osborne House, I am issuing the following statement regarding the racist comments made by a Manitoba Cabinet Minister about myself and our charity.
Only last week, a male government MLA was forced to apologize and was penalized for suggesting an opposition MLA had a "male friend". Premier Greg Selinger spoke out against his MLA's comment as being "not appropriate in the Legislature or outside of the Legislature". Selinger added that MLA Dave Gaudreau was being punished "as a form of saying to him that he needs sanctions and he needs to change his behaviour and he fully accepts those sanctions."
This week, Deputy Premier Eric Robinson defended deliberately hiding his racist comments about me, Barbara Judt, under Freedom of Information laws as some sort of official government policy. Robinson blatantly lied to a reporter claiming his racially biased remarks were not about anyone in particular when they were clearly about me and the seven women who volunteer to serve as the Osborne House Board of Directors.
Robinson thinks it is okay to attack women and, in fact, all white people who do not tow his line as "ignorant do gooders" and defends it by saying that the Premier knows about his email and that he will not apologize or resign. If that is true, it appears the Premier has a double standard about taking action when it comes to men being insulted and demeaned by members of his caucus as opposed to when women and "white people" are the targets of the hate of his most senior MLA.
Many good things have been accomplished by the CEO and Board to deliver support and counselling to the battered women who cross our doorstep, but in the eyes of the province, nothing we do is right.
It is important to note that neither Robinson nor his advisor, Nahanni Fontaine, have ever crossed our doorstep to see for themselves the caring services we provide to the aboriginal women they claim need protecting from our "ignorance".Osborne House has felt the wrath of intimidation from senior level bureaucrats this past fiscal year. We asked legitimate business related questions including why the Family Violence Prevention Program is demanding our volunteer Board commit to taking on substantial personal debt instead of properly funding our operations and in return from government, we are the recipients of retaliation and bullying.
This is exactly how our clients feel when they are in abusive relationships. Abusers pick away at their victims; nothing they do is right; they won’t engage in discussion to resolve things; they pick fights and then blame the victim for everything.
I have exercised my right to file FIPPA applications to get to the bottom of this behaviour. Information contained within the documents clearly shows an orchestrated effort is underway to undermine the current CEO and Board based on a racial bias.
Accordingly, I have filed a statement with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to initiate a formal Human Rights complaint against Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, his advisor Nahanni Fontaine, and two officials from Family Services and Labour who encouraged their racist attacks on me and the shelter, and who have ever since dealt with our agency in a biased manner.
What is especially offensive about Robinson's racial smear is that many of our supporters are aboriginal, and that our Board chair is herself aboriginal. I am calling on Premier Selinger to step forward and rebuke Robinson and make clear to him that insulting all the thousands of women in Manitoba who are supporting and fundraising for Osborne House as being "ignorant do gooders" is, at the very least, as unacceptable as what was said by Mr. Gaudreau.
The Premier must sanction Robinson for suggesting that Osborne House and our supporters are in any way disrespectful to our aboriginal clients or in any way harm their interests. The Premier must ensure such racism is not tolerated at the Cabinet table and must denounce any government policy that espouses a racial bias against Osborne House and the dedicated members of this community who support victims of domestic and family violence. Such a policy is plainly against the Manitoba Human Rights Code.
Barbara Judt, CEO Osborne House Inc.