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Bureaucrat apologizes for racist e-mail

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services
Friday, March 9, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Federal bureaucrat Michael Hurst is apologizing for distributing a racist, sexist e-mail from his government e-mail address.

The Yellowknife manager for Industry Canada came into the Yellowknifer office with a letter of apology in hand yesterday.

NNSL Photo/graphicAs many people are aware, I distributed an e-mail that has caused anguish in our community. I sincerely apologize to any person and specifically, the women of the Northwest Territories for any pain, suffering or harm I have caused. I now understand how this material can be hurtful and should not be distributed or even accepted.NNSL Photo/graphic
- An apology from Michael Hurst

He declined an interview, saying only that it was time to make the apology.

Hurst's e-mail created a firestorm of protest and indignation when it was first discovered in January.

The e-mail contained photographs of three young, topless, blond-haired women alongside another photo of an older, disheveled appearing aboriginal woman baring her breasts. The e-mail invited readers to "Pick Miss NWT."

Hurst had sent the e-mail to his hockey team.

Members of several NWT women's groups called for Hurst to be fired after seeing the e-mail.

Last week, the heads of the NWT Native Women's Association, NWT Status of Women Council, and Centre for Northern Families, complained that they were not consulted after Hurst's employers ordered him to volunteer for the organizations as punishment for sending the e-mail.

They said they would only accept volunteer work from him if he and Industry Canada issued a public apology.

Lynn Brooks, president of the Status of Women Council, told Yellowknifer last week that Hurst was willing to make the apology but his superiors forbade him from making it.

Arlene Hache, executive director of the Centre for Northern Families, upped the ante by sending a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper March 2, calling on him to make a formal declaration in support of Northern women and "declaring absolute intolerance for any action that perpetuates racist and sexist stereotypes."

When Hurst's letter was dictated to Hache yesterday, she said it was a "great letter of apology," but the issue has now gone well beyond his individual actions.

Hache said she has since learned the offending e-mail had been floating around the Industry Canada office for several months, and was seen by many staff members.

"The issue is actually much bigger than Mr. Hurst," said Hache.

"I appreciate Mr. Hurst's apology actually. He and the women he is around, he will work that out with them in the future.

"For now though, my concern is more about the response from Industry Canada."

On Wednesday, an Ottawa-based group, Women of the Metis Nation, issued a press release, which also calls on the department to apologize.

Hache said she would need to consult with the Native Women's Association to decide whether the demand for Hurst's removal should be rescinded. The group's president, Terry Villeneuve, could not be reached for comment at press time.

Jessica Slack, a spokesperson with Industry Canada, acknowledged there is "speculation" that the racist e-mail was distributed within the department, but would not comment on it.

She wouldn't say if the department would be making an apology either.