Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Curious Need To Make Ruth Ellen A Victim

I've long since lost any illusions about our ability to view every political issue through a partisan lens. Partisans will praise their side for principled and worthy stands when in Opposition, and then view the exact same behaviour as pointless obstructionism once their side is in government. It happens. I'm pretty sure it happens to me too, though I try to be aware of this. 

The minor fracas in Parliament seemed to have reached a conclusion that all but the shrillest partisans could live with. The Prime Minister accepted the collective wisdom of parliamentary experts and journalists that, in a moment of frustration, he had crossed a line that should not be crossed. In losing patience with the Opposition and pushing through a crowd of chatty MPs to drag the Tory Whip to his seat, he had behaved in a way that prime ministers historically have not. 

Mark Twain once remarked that intelligence is the ability to entertain two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Intelligent people could conclude that the Prime Minister was right to apologize and to show good faith by retracting rule changes that would limit debate. Those same people could also believe that, once that apology was issued, that the Opposition parties would have been well-served to show their sincere interest in the right to debate and examine bills by actually debating and examining bills and moving on from the whole kerfuffle.

One person who seemed truly innocent in all this was the MP for Berthier-Maskinong√©, Ruth Ellen Brosseau. She was the MP who the Prime Minister, as he reached through the crowd, elbowed in the chest. She said it hurt quite a bit, and between the pain and the gravity and chaos of the moment, she needed a few minutes and missed a vote. He, in turn, said he was sorry and especially regretted not watching out for her. 

That would be a fine place to leave it. But then idiots got involved. 

Some Liberals tried to go back and justify what Mr. Trudeau agreed was not justifiable, elevating the little coffee clutch of chatty MPs in the aisle as some kind of blockade or obstruction that threatened democracy itself. As veteran Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells noted, if you don't think MPs chat in the aisles in a break, you clearly have never been in Parliament. (Or, I can assure you, in the New Brunswick Legislature). Or you can believe eminent parliamentary historian Michael Bliss, who confirmed that chatting in an aisle in a break, or even slow voting, is very ordinary and physical dragging MPs through them is not. Or believe Gord Brown, the Tory MP who has confirmed that he wasn’t at risk of missing a vote or in need of prime ministerial rescuing. Bottom line – if that was a blockade, I get blockaded at the farmer’s market samosa booth every weekend. 

And some NDP and Conservative MPs seemed way too glad to finally have an opening to slam Mr. Trudeau, who has had one hell of a political honeymoon.  The Conservative motion speaking about “molestation” of Ms. Brosseau was clearly over-egging the pudding. More justifiably upsetting to many Canadians was the tendency of some MPs to slip into the language of condemning violence against women, speaking of “safe spaces” and likening Ms. Brosseau’s plight to the struggle of women facing violence to be heard. One NDP MP suggested getting “victim impact statements”, which understandably caused a collective “oh, for Pete’s sake” among level-headed observers. And word of Tom Mulcair raising Ms. Brosseau’s gender in yelling at Mr.Trudeau seemed a bridge too far – while the Prime Minister had copped to a carelessness that could have led to hitting someone, his carelessness had no basis in gender or even intent. 

One point must be made here.  Exactly NONE of those statements came out of the mouth of Mr. Brown or Ms. Brosseau. Mr. Brown said simply that he needed no help and hadn't appreciated the Prime Minister pulling him where he was quite capable of getting on his own. Ms. Brosseau said that she got elbowed in the chest and it hurt, and the whole thing overwhelmed her long enough that she missed one vote. 

So, intelligent people can likely entertain certain conflicting thoughts here. They can think the Prime Minister acted like a bit of a jerk and did well to apologize, yet does not deserve any attribution of intent or sexism in his careless elbowing of Ms. Brosseau. And we can also think of cases where we can think of someone meaning us no harm and having no ill intent, but managing to hurt us anyway. (Fellow actors who do dance numbers with me have been elbowed and will be elbowed again). 

There are certain things that intelligent, decent people do not think to do. They would not be motivated to start reviewing the tape like the Zapruder film in an obsessive effort to reach a diagnosis as to whether Ms. Brosseau actually felt pain or not. They would not begin speculating that she likely tried to provoke Mr. Trudeau to elbow her in the chest. They CERTAINLY would not swarm Ms. Brosseau’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to call her things like “a waste of skin”, “hysterical bitch”, “lying twat” and “drama queen”, urging her to resign for the crime of having suggested that catching a stray elbow from the Prime Minister might have been less than an honour. 

There are a number of reasons this is silly.

First, let's all have some humility about watching a silent video filmed at a distance. I don't know how much that contact hurt. Neither do you. Neither does any prize dipstick on Twitter claiming to have conducted an analysis of facial expression and nerve endings by video. If a doctor tried to reach a conclusion on pain threshold based on that silent video alone, that doctor wouldn't even get to take the witness stand in court. 

I do know that this is a young single mother who supported her child by working in a campus bar.  I've been in campus bars, and even that campus bar. Getting jostled isn't new to her, and if she was prone to make it up, we would know it. It all appears to be a quick and spontaneous set of events to me. If you can grant that the Prime Minister acted without calculation or intent in causing the contact, you really have no good reason not to extend the same presumption to the recipient.

Second, it is ugly in the extreme when people on social media start saying she shouldn't have been in the aisle, or ask why she didn't move away.  She was also blocked in by MPs and desks around her (because they were all hating). And even if she was slowing down a vote to show her disagreement (as Mr. Trudeau did to Mr. Harper in the day), that isn't asking for an elbow. 

Third, some people seem to have lost all self-awareness in their need to attack her. Ms. Brosseau’s last two Facebook posts were regarding a festival in her riding and some issue advocacy with MP Guy Caron. Neither mentioned the elbow. And at last look, 644 people had left posts asking why she was milking the incident.  I find it hard to believe that many people are dumb enough, or wilfully blind enough, not so see that if a woman posts on an unrelated topic and you respond by screaming that she needs to move on from getting hit -- you're the one who can't move on. 

But what is bothering me most, as a citizen and a guy about to turn a daughter loose on this world, is how unequal and unnecessary all this vitriol and plain old meanness has become. If other MP’s, even of the same party, have said dumb things that are unfair to the Prime Minister, the normal course of reply is to contact and refute the MPs who actually said those things. All Ruth-Ellen Brosseau did was say that an elbow to the chest hurts, and an elbow from the Prime Minister that gets everyone yelling is especially rattling. 

In fact, Mr. Brown has received NONE of the same vitriol or attacks, despite the fact that his party brought the molestation motion and he also said he didn't appreciate the Prime Minister pulling him.  Ditto Peter Van Loan, the middle aged man who moved a motion describing what the Prime Minister did as physical “molestation”.  Even when John Oliver mentioned this weird word choice, no trolls set upon him the way they did on Ms. Brosseau.  Even Speaker Geoff Regan described it as “manhandling” MPs.  No man has faced the online hate or the depth of name calling that Ms. Brosseau has, which raises an ugly question about why some people seem so angry at a woman saying she got hurt and it shouldn't have happened. 

This is especially true because it is completely and utterly unnecessary to attack her to defend Mr.Trudeau from the more ridiculous attacks. He's already apologized for being careless,  and asked us to believe he is sincere, so it does him no good to argue that he has nothing to be sincere about. As for the over-the-top suggestions about violence against women, the argument that completely exonerates him is that the contact was accidental and gender blind. Given that this is true even if Ms. Brosseau is honest in saying she felt pain, what is the pathological obsession with making her a liar?  Can we not like the Prime Minister and support him without flying into a rage at the suggestion that his elbows are pointy and can hurts a collision?

This is no partisan screed, because no elected Liberal has attacked Ms. Brosseau in this over-the-top way. Some, like Minister Catherine McKenna, have even called the haters out, and good for her. But what is happening makes me sadder. A lot of our fellow citizens seem so genuinely resentful of a woman saying she got hurt and didn't like it that they will repeatedly watch a video and lie about what they can glean from it.  They will attack that woman with nasty names and threaten to take her job from her.  They will attack her for the comments and actions of others, but leave those people alone. And they are quite willing to send her a message that, once a woman complains about being hurt, that incident will brand her and define her even when she tries to move on to other topics that engage her in her job or as a citizen. In short, there is something that seems to drive some of us to attack and destroy a woman who complains about a man’s conduct, even if she doesn't really complain very much. We have an unhealthy and pathological need for Ruth-Ellen Brosseau to be a liar, even if that doesn't change what Mr, Trudeau did, and even if it inspires us to name-calling and attacking. 

What Justin Trudeau accidentally did to Ruth-Ellen Brosseau was an accident and bears no relevance to violence against women. What some of our fellow citizens are doing to Ruth Ellen Brosseau afterwards is ugly, intentional and tells us a hell of a lot about why women who are victims of real domestic violence don't come forward. 

For the love of God, people, stop.

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