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Trudeau Denies Groping Reporter but Says Accuser Might Have Felt Uncomfortable

OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has repeatedly denied accusations he acted inappropriately with a young reporter at a charity event 18 years ago. On Friday, he said his accuser might have experienced their interaction differently.

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Ian Austen
, New York Times

OTTAWA, Ontario — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has repeatedly denied accusations he acted inappropriately with a young reporter at a charity event 18 years ago. On Friday, he said his accuser might have experienced their interaction differently.

“I do not feel that there was any inappropriate action of any type,” Trudeau said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s Toronto radio station. “But, and this is the really important thing, it is not just my experience that matters in this.”

He added, “The way the same interaction can be experienced by different people is a really important thing to get our minds around.”

The accusation that Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister since 2015, groped the reporter when he was a schoolteacher and living in British Columbia appeared in 2000 in an unsigned editorial published by The Creston Valley Advance, a small newspaper in that province.

The editorial resurfaced in Frank, a Canadian political satire and gossip magazine, and a blogger who is a well-known critic of Trudeau then gave it new prominence shortly before Trudeau was host to the Group of 7 summit meeting last month in Quebec. Breitbart, the far-right website, then picked up the editorial.

Several media outlets, including The New York Times, subsequently reported on the accusations.

The accusations have received modest attention in Canada except from the opposition Conservative Party, which has repeatedly accused Trudeau — a self-described feminist who recently removed a member of Parliament from his cabinet for making lewd comments in a previous political role — of hypocrisy.

The incident took place when Trudeau attended the now-defunct Konkanee Summit Festival in Creston, British Columbia, to accept a donation for a charity to prevent deaths from avalanches. He had established the charity, with other members of his family, after the death of his brother two years earlier in an avalanche at a nearby park.

The editorial, published shortly afterward, said Trudeau had engaged in “inappropriately handling” of one of its reporters during the event. Citing the reporter, who is not named in the editorial, the paper said Trudeau was disrespectful toward the woman because she was from a small newspaper.

“It’s not a rare incident to have a young reporter, especially a female who is working for a small community newspaper, be considered an underling to their ‘more predominant’ associates and blatantly disrespected because of it,” the editorial said.

The editorial writer went on to ask: “Didn’t he learn through his vast experiences in public life, that groping a strange young woman isn’t the handbook of proper etiquette?”

It is unclear who wrote the editorial, which said the reporter was also on assignment for The National Post and The Vancouver Sun. At the time, all three newspapers were owned by a company controlled by Conrad M. Black.

The editorial said Trudeau apologized to the reporter by saying: “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”

Late Friday, a woman named Rose Knight acknowledged in a statement to the CBC that she was the reporter.

When contacted last month by The Times, Knight, who is no longer a journalist, declined to comment and asked that she not be identified.

She did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Knight wrote that she was making her public statement “reluctantly” and said the incident described in the editorial “did occur, as reported.”

She added: “Mr. Trudeau did apologize the next day. I did not pursue the incident at the time and I will not be pursuing the incident further.”

Knight, who said she did not represent any organization, media outlet or “movement, political or otherwise,” said she would not comment further. “The debate, if it continues, will continue without my involvement,” she wrote.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau acknowledged that he had offered an apology to Knight, even though “I did not know to what she was referring.”

When asked by Matt Galloway, the radio host, why he had apologized if he did not believe he had done anything wrong, Trudeau replied: “It was because I saw that she had been made uncomfortable and I did not want her to be uncomfortable regardless of whether I knew why she was uncomfortable or not.”

“Even though I don’t think I did anything wrong, that’s not the whole story anymore,” Trudeau said.

In an email Friday, Valerie Bourne, former publisher of The Advance, said she spoke privately with Knight on the day of the incident.

She said Knight told her the incident involved “an inappropriate touch which in the context of today would be called ‘sexual’ in nature.”

Bourne said she found the former reporter’s account credible and she had not been satisfied with Trudeau’s responses.

“Trudeau has now acknowledged that he thinks he proffered an apology to her, but he tempers the acknowledgment by saying that if he did so, it was because he sensed that she was not comfortable with their interaction at that event,” she wrote in the email. “His latest interview is still a tap dance around the questions put to him by reporters and in Parliament.”

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