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'The slap,' an 'immediately regretted' incident at the Canadian embassy

The slap wasn't caught on camera, but it was overheard by members of the media.

1986 incident involving Sondra Gotlieb and Connie Connor made headlines

U.S. President Ronald Reagan poses with Ambassador Allan Gotlieb and his wife Sondra at a diplomatic credential presentation ceremony at the White House in this Dec. 8, 1981 file photo. (Barry Thumma/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

The slap wasn't caught on camera, but it was overheard by members of the media.

On March 19, 1986, a dinner was being held at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, with then-U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush as the guest of honour.

But the big story that evening came from an incident involving Sondra Gotlieb, a Canadian writer and journalist married to then-Ambassador Allan Gotlieb, and the embassy's social secretary, Connie Connor.

"Shortly before the vice president arrived, the social secretary and Sondra Gotlieb ... had an exchange of words, during which Mrs. Gotlieb slapped Ms. [Connor] across the face," reporter Mike Duffy told viewers on The National the following night, recapping the details of the incident.

"Reporters standing outside heard the blow and looked up to see the secretary running off in tears."

'An incident of a purely personal character'

The Canadian embassy in Washington was making news in March of 1986, but not the kind of news it wanted to make. 1:50

The next day, an embassy spokesperson released a statement saying that "an incident of a purely personal character" had occurred, which was also "immediately regretted."

According to the spokesperson, an apology had been extended and accepted.

The Gotliebs had been in Washington since 1981, when Allan Gotlieb had been appointed as the Canadian ambassador to the United States.

The ambassador remained in his position until taking a new job with the Canada Council in the late 1980s.

'Everything kind of exploded'

In April 1990, Sondra Gotlieb talks to Midday's Tina Srebotnjak about "the slap" incident. 2:43

Yet the slap incident remained a story of curiosity for some time, including when Sondra Gotlieb spoke to CBC's Midday in 1990 while promoting a book she had written about the time the couple had spent in Washington.

"I want to talk, of course, like everybody does, about the slap, the incident that you are the most famous for," the CBC's Tina Srebotnjak said, during her interview with Gotlieb.

Gotlieb disagreed, saying she believed she was most famous for her writing.

"Well, I think you're most famous with most people who are watching because of the slap," Srebotnjak said.

Pressed about the circumstances surrounding the incident, Gotlieb talked about being hungry and stressed in the hours leading up to the dinner in question.

"I was hungry and I was tired and everything kind of exploded," said Gotlieb, who described the interaction with Connor as being "a very private incident."

'Such a tiny incident'

Midday co-host Tina Srebotnjak told Sondra Gotlieb that "most people" watching the show knew her for her involvement in the slap incident, rather than her writing. (Midday/CBC Archives)

Srebotnjak said: "No, I understand that, but still you did slap her."

"And I apologized immediately afterwards," Gotlieb replied, "and both of us finished the evening thinking we had a wonderful success."

Gotlieb also expressed her belief the story had been blown out of proportion by the media.

"It was such a tiny incident, it was not public," she said. "If I had sort of slapped my social secretary in front of the prime minister — I mean that is the way the story was presented over and over and over again, and there was nothing I could to defend myself."