OTTAWA — The House of Commons erupted in chaos Wednesday as a New Democrat MP and her opposition colleagues accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of elbowing her in the chest during a confrontation prior to a key vote.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau said she was shocked by the encounter and had to leave the chamber as mayhem descended on the Commons floor, with Trudeau at one point in a face-to-face encounter with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
The incident had MPs in an uproar as they shouted and pounded their desks in a display of antipathy rarely seen in the parliamentary chamber.
“I was standing in the centre talking to some colleagues,” Brosseau told the House after calm was restored. “I was elbowed in the chest by the prime minister and then I had to leave.”
“It was very overwhelming and so I left the chamber to go and sit in the lobby. I missed the vote because of this.”
New Democrat Peter Julian said he had never seen such behaviour in his 12 years in the House.
Trudeau issued an abject apology, even amid the catcalls and protests of the opposition benches, saying he was just trying to help one of the party’s whips through a throng of MPs prior to the vote.
He never intended to hurt anyone, Trudeau insisted.
“I took it upon myself to go and assist him forward, which was I now see unadvisable as a course of action,” said Trudeau, who characterized his actions as “unacceptable.”
“I apologize for that unreservedly and I look for opportunities to make amends.”
Tempers have been running high in the Commons all week as the government pushes through a motion to limit debate on its controversial assisted-dying legislation, Bill C-14. It was that motion the members were gathered to vote on before the confrontation took place.
Speaker Geoff Regan could barely make himself heard as he tried to read the text of the motion.
Conservative Peter Van Loan said the prime minister charged across the floor “with anger fierce in his eyes and face.” Julian said the prime minister elbowed one MP and manhandled another.
“Physical force in this House is never permitted,” the New Democrat said.
“I came in physical contact with a number of members as I extended my arm,” Trudeau said. “I did not intend to offend or impact on anyone.”
Green party Leader Elizabeth May, whose seat in the House gave her a ringside seat for the encounter and subsequent arguments, called for calm at one point — and suggested that the NDP MPs may have been milling about on the floor in order to delay the vote.
“It was most unwise of the prime minister to attempt to move along the vote,” May said.
“But the second contact with my friend (Brosseau), which is certainly the one that was the most emotional for the member involved, was clearly, from my perspective … unintentional.”
She added: “He had not seen her behind him. That is the truth. Now you can like it or not like it.”
The Speaker concluded there was a prima facie case that Brosseau’s privileges as an MP had been breached.
The Canadian Press
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