Pallister says 'race war' was 'wrong choice of words' but won't apologize for night-hunting comments

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says referring to the dispute over night hunting as "becoming a race war" was the wrong choice of words.

Premier, addressing comments in Manitoba for the first time, says he has no reason to apologize

Pallister said he was concerned about violence erupting in response to night hunting and said there is nothing to apologize for. 1:44

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says his "race war" comments about night hunting constituted a poor choice of words but insists there is no reason for him to apologize.

Speaking in Virden on Jan. 16, Pallister told politicians at a Progressive Conservative Party luncheon that tensions over night hunting between Indigenous and other Manitobans are "becoming a race war."

By the time those comments were published, on Jan. 19 by CJ103 reporter Heather Reimer, the premier was on his way to his vacation property near Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

Speaking to reporters in Winnipeg for the first time since his return from Central America, Pallister said his comments in Virden were impassioned but not worthy of an apology.

Premier Brian Pallister (third from left, between MLAs Rochelle Squires and Ian Wishart), attended the Grand Mosque to meet with Muslim community leaders. (Bartley Kives/CBC)
"I regret the turn it's taken in terms of those comments but I don't regret raising the issue," Pallister said Tuesday at Winnipeg's Grand Mosque, where the premier expressed solidarity with Muslim community leaders shaken by Sunday's shootings in Quebec City.

"I think I used the wrong choice of words."

Pallister said his "race war" comments came out of conversations he had with rural Manitobans and concerns he had about violence erupting in response to night hunting. 

"There's been nothing done and so people are frustrated and some are threatening vigilantism," he said, adding he wants to bring people together to find solutions to night hunting.

Premier Brian Pallister says referring to the dispute over night hunting as "becoming a race war" was wrong. 2:24

The issue has been ignored for too long, he said, noting two people have died in connection with night hunting and there have been other close calls. 

Asked to explain what me meant by the term "race war," Pallister said people in Virden raised the potential of "taking action" against hunters who come on to their land. He said his words were intended to quell emotions and make sure "they didn't do that."

The province will be undertaking "co-operative strategies" with the Indigenous community to address night hunting, he said.

"It's critical that if you want to effect better outcomes you work together and not separately," he said.

Asked several times whether he believed Indigenous Manitobans are primarily responsible for night hunting, the premier declined to answer, though he did assert the rights of Indigenous Manitobans to hunt at night.

The premier also was asked repeatedly whether he would apologize for his comments, which have been condemned by Indigenous leaders. Pallister said he has no reason to apologize. 

NDP Justice critic Andrew Swan said the premier can still change his mind and apologize.

Premier offended by quote in Maclean's

The premier also denied  telling Maclean's magazine associate editor Nancy Macdonald that night hunters are Indigenous criminals.

Brian Pallister dismisses quotes attributed to him in Maclean's:

Brian Pallister denies making the comments attributed to him by a Maclean's magazine reporter while in Costa Rica. He says the comments that "young Indigenous men, a preponderance of them with criminal records" was offensive to him when he read it. 2:33

In an article published Thursday, Macdonald quoted Pallister as saying, "Young Indigenous men — a preponderance of them are offenders, with criminal records — are going off shooting guns in the middle of the night. It doesn't make sense." 

​"That statement was not my statement and when I read the statement I was immediately offended by it and I think people should be offended by that statement," he said. 

Macdonald told CBC News she did not make an audio recording of the conversation, but said she took notes and the premier saw her doing so. 

Pallister claimed she misquoted him and implored reporters to treat his decades-long record of working with Indigenous women as proof he would not make those comments.

"I don't have any way to prove what I said or didn't say," said Pallister. "I am telling you on my honour that those are not words I would ever say, nor did I say them then."

The premier also suggested Macdonald misled him about the basis for the interview.

Speaking to CBC News on Monday, Macdonald said Pallister is trying to discredit her rather than apologize to people he's hurt.

"If I'd been misquoted or someone said something wrong about me, I would immediately correct the record. I would have expected his office to do that immediately on Thursday. Instead, they waited five days," the former Winnipegger said in an interview from Vancouver.

"Rather than going out and speaking with the people who he's hurt, he's just going to deny this ever happened. It's not something I would do, but this is what he's chosen to do."

Asked why he did not issue a statement immediately to correct the record, Pallister said he does not like to get into public spats with reporters.

Costa Rica absence queried

The premier was also asked whether he would reconsider spending so much time in Costa Rica, given his unavailability to respond to his "race war" comments and the one-day delay in meeting Muslim leaders in Winnipeg.

Pallister said while he regretted the latter delay, he said his family time remains important to him and he will continue to spend 90 per cent of his time in Winnipeg.

He also said he was on his way back to Manitoba quickly once he heard the news about Quebec City.

Listen back to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister's news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Winnipeg's Grand Mosque where he spoke to reporters about the controversial practice of night hunting. He also responded to questions about a recent Maclean's article that included a statement about Indigenous hunters attributed to him that critics called racist. 18:33