Early this year, January 31st, to be exact, I got a peculiar phone call from another news media reporter. Was I aware of an editorial in the Advance, written in the summer of 2000, that commented about an alleged incident involving a reporter and the then-28-year-old Justin Trudeau?
I had no recollection of it, but I tracked down the newspaper in question, and there it was—a short, unsigned piece accusing Trudeau of inappropriate behaviour while he was in Creston for the popular Kokanee Summit beer and music fest. The event was designated as a fundraiser for the construction of a cabin at Kokanee Glacier, where Justin’s brother had died a few years earlier.
The editorial did not tweak any memory of the reporter’s accusation and I doubt I ever read it. I was not working for the Advance at the time (and neither were any of our current staff). When I left the newspaper’s employ in 1993 I continued to write This is the Life for the next 12 years for a fee. My relationship with the paper circa 2000 was not particularly warm. In fact, I once received a letter from the publisher and editor of the day, who took an issue to my occasional criticisms of news stories or editorials, suggesting that I was biting the hand that fed me and implying my tenure as a columnist was in peril. The accusation was laughable, because what I was paid for the column certainly would not have fed me, and I change nothing about my approach to writing.
When I found that first edition following the Kokanee Summit, there was my column, right beside the editorial in question. My topic? The Kokanee Summit. I had attended the event as a volunteer. The caterer had recruited parents of the PCSS grad class of that year, and I spent the time flipping burgers and serving food. My recollections of the day are vague and, while I suppose I must have seen Justin Trudeau, no actual memory remains.
I spent some time on January 31st tracking down a way to contact the female reporter who made the accusation, and I wrote her an email with a series of questions. Within a day that email account was disabled and to this day I have not heard from her. My conclusion at the time and nothing has happened in the interim to convince me otherwise, was that if she did not want to comment, there was no story. For the next several months the issue was largely ignored, but it bounced back about six weeks ago, driven primarily by political enemies of Trudeau, I suspect.
Phone calls and emails flooded in. CBC was particularly frustrating because it has news desks all across the country, with little coordination of efforts, I heard from many of them. Newspaper and television reporters also wanted more info. I was on vacation at the time, and the probes became downright annoying. I had nothing to offer, not having any knowledge of the interaction between the reporter and Trudeau, and having had only a distant relationship with the Advance at that time. I ignored some of the communications and forwarded others on to a Black Press spokesperson.
Pressured by the national media, Trudeau eventually commented on the accusations, and last week the reporter in question (I assume) made an email statement that she would be making no comment on the 18-year-old accusation. The editor and publisher of the day have both made comments, but without the reporter’s co-operation, the situation remains a non-story, in my opinion. Their information was based on allegations only, and I understand the issue was not reported to the RCMP.
Requests from other news media have largely died down, but crackpots and self-appointed “experts” have come crawling out of the woodwork. Not a day passes without messages from, let’s just say strange people with their own agendas.
Me? Like Sergeant Schultz from the old Hogan’s Heroes television series, I know nothing. Except that I am tired of the whole thing.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher for the Creston Valley Advance