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Trustee backtracks on Trudeau comments

A Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustee is retracting comments made to Northern Life on Dec. 17 regarding federal Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s appearance tomorrow at St. Charles College.
Federal Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau, seen here during a September 2009 visit to Sudbury, will speak to students at St. Charles College about youth empowerment Dec. 21. Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustee Estelle Scappatura said earlier this week she was opposed to the idea of him speaking at the school, but later retracted her comments. File photo.

A Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustee is retracting comments made to Northern Life on Dec. 17 regarding federal Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s appearance tomorrow at St. Charles College.

Estelle Scappatura said she was opposed to his visit because of what she called his “pro-abortion” view.

The trustee didn’t want to say much about the issue during the morning of Dec. 19, but did confirm she’s retracting her earlier comments because of a statement issued Dec. 18 by Roman Catholic Diocese of Algoma Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe.

“I just can’t make any more comments,” Scappatura said. “I’m finished with it.”
In his statement, Plouffe said Trudeau is a practising Roman Catholic, married in the church with two children.

“He is not estranged from the church in any way,” the bishop said.

“In many ways, he can be a source of inspiration to the youth. It is important that our Catholic schools offer this opportunity to students to value community involvement here and abroad.”

Scappatura is also backtracking from a comment attributed to her in another local media outlet on Dec. 18, where she’s quoted as saying, “I assumed the bishop is pro-abortion and supports Justin.”

“That had to be a misquote, and I’m calling them on it,” she said.

In her earlier comments, Scappatura, who emphasized she was speaking for herself, and not for the board as a whole, said Catholic trustees have a responsibility to promote the tenets of the church’s faith.

She said she’d received emails from those opposed to Trudeau’s appearance at St. Charles, including the Knights of Columbus and pro-life groups.

“It’s against the dogma of our church to be pro-abortion,” Scappatura said Dec. 17. “That’s just what I’m trying to protect — the teachings of our church.”

It would have been more appropriate for Trudeau to appear at a venue other than a Catholic school, she said.

This isn’t the first time someone has questioned the suitability of Trudeau, MP for Papineau, to speak before Catholic students.

Earlier this fall, Dean Del Mastro, the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, said on Facebook that it was “outrageous” Trudeau had been invited to speak at a Catholic school in Peterborough, Ont.

In response, Trudeau said although he’s personally opposed to abortion, women’s reproductive rights should be a matter of individual choice.

Catherine McCullough, director of education with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, said Trudeau’s appearance isn’t about politics, so the issue of abortion won’t even come up.

But Scappatura, a former religious education teacher with the Catholic board, said Dec. 17 that even though Trudeau won’t be speaking about politics, as a politician, his appearance still carries political weight.

“He can influence the children’s thoughts, if not immediately, but maybe somewhere in the future where they will consider that he spoke in a Catholic forum,” she said.

For St. Charles College student president and Sudbury Catholic student trustee David DiBrina, who saw Trudeau speak at a student leadership conference in September, Trudeau is the kind of politician who can have a positive impact on students.

“He’s very charismatic,” he said. “He cares for the young people in this country, and he cares about making a positive change in this country.

“If you don’t help anyone as you grow, how are you really growing spiritually?”
The chair of the Sudbury Catholic board, Barry MacDonald, said he has no concerns himself about Trudeau’s appearance, although Scappatura is certainly entitled to her opinion.

He said he’s not sure how many trustees share Scappatura’s viewpoint.

“This has got nothing to do with pro-choice,” he said. “This is Justin Trudeau speaking to his students about student leadership and social justice.”

Although the talk at the school is not a public event, Trudeau will be the guest at a meet-and-greet today from noon to 2 p.m. at Theatre Cambrian’s lower hall at 40 Eyre St.

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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