Commons erupts as opposition accuses Trudeau of elbowing female NDP MP

The Prime Minister apologized for the incident, which had the opposition fuming

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.

Quebec MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau said she was so shocked by the encounter, she 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 — coming amid the superheated atmosphere of the doctor-assisted death debate — had MPs in an uproar as they shouted and pounded their desks in a display of antipathy rarely seen in the parliamentary chamber.

Footage from the Commons television feed showed Trudeau wading into a clutch of MPs, mostly New Democrats, and pulling Opposition whip Gordon Brown through the crowd in order to get the vote started.

As Trudeau turns around to pull Brown through, Brosseau can be seen reacting with discomfort.

“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 could barely contain his outrage, saying he’d 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 the opposition whip get to his seat.

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.”

What followed was a lengthy parade of indignant MPs getting up to express their outrage to the Speaker, describing how they’d never seen anything like it in all their years as politicians.

At one point, Trudeau left to attend a photo-op with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and a reception for guests who were on hand for a different apology: Parliament saying sorry for the Komagata Maru incident off the B.C. coast in 1914.

During the former event, Trudeau looked serious and shaken as he rushed through a statement of welcome directed at Clark. For her part, Clark said he never mentioned the incident.

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. It was defeated by a margin of 172-137, although Brosseau wasn’t able to register her vote.

Conservative Peter Van Loan said the prime minister charged across the floor “with anger fierce in his eyes and face.”

“I’ve read about this stuff in history books from the 19th century,” an incredulous Van Loan said. “I’ve never had it happen in my lifetime.”

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, which means the encounter will be examined by an all-party committee.