N.L. cabinet minister apologizes after describing Innu as playing ‘race card’ in leaked voicemail recording

A Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister apologized Thursday evening after accidentally leaving embarrassing comments on a voicemail with the Innu Nation, in an error that prompted Premier Dwight Ball to also issue an apology. 

The call was placed to Dominic Rich, executive assistant to the Indigenous group, in relation to questions surrounding a translator for motor vehicle registration.

After Trimper left his message, the call did not hang up.

An unidentified woman is heard saying: “Well, you know, you can’t have it all in every language.” 

Trimper responds: “There’s got to be an easier way to provide … it’s not their God-given right to provide service.”

Trimper adds even if the motor vehicle registration material is translated into English, “they won’t read it.”

The woman says “they have a feeling of entitlement,” to which Trimper adds, “the race card comes up all the time.”

“Man, don’t play that on me. I’ve been 32 years working with you guys, don’t play that on me,” he says. 

The woman then tells Trimper to “wait for the Innu inquiry.”

What did Perry Trimper and a colleague say? Hear the recording 

Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper accidentally left a voicemail on a member of the Innu Nation’s voicemail. 5:01

It was not immediately clear whether they were referring to the Innu, or the Innu Nation organization. 

The conversation was recorded, and posted online by the Innu Nation. 

Trimper apologizes

“The first thing I’d like to do is apologize,” Trimper told CBC’s Anthony Germain Thursday evening during a live interview on Here & Now. 

“I’d like to apologize to Mr. [Innu Grand Chief George] Rich, the Innu of Labrador and the people of Lake Melville. It’s not the Perry Trimper I work hard at.” 

“Regardless if it was recorded or not, I shouldn’t have said it.”

Trimper said he has worked closely with the Innu for 32 years, and this specific call was about frustration with fiscal challenges and financial pressure and the need for services.

Asked if he is going to resign, Trimper said he was focusing on making things right. 

“I think the most important thing, first of all, Anthony, is to apologize. I’ve made a mistake and I have drifted away from who I value in myself. The best thing to do is to come clean.”

When asked if he can rebuild trust, Trimper replied, “I will work on it.”

The revelation of Trimper’s comments come less than a week after he was appointed to cabinet. He had previously been the Speaker in the House of Assembly.

In a statement, Premier Dwight Ball said he spoke to Rich “and apologized for what happened.”

“In no way does Minister Trimper’s comments reflect the views of Premier Ball, or that of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Government values the relationship with the Innu Nation and holds the Innu Nation in the highest respect,” the premier said in a statement. 

Ball has offered to meet with Rich as soon as possible.

‘Shock and sadness’

Dominic Rich said when he first heard the recording he was “full of shock and sadness.”

But the greatest emotion he felt was betrayal, he added.

“The very core and the very fabric and the very thread of me being Innu just shook when I heard those words,” Rich told CBC News late Thursday afternoon. 

Rich said he believes the comments left on the voicemail were “very racist” and he hopes the government takes the comments seriously. 

“The racism has to stop somewhere. It has to stop, it has to be discussed. If not, racism will continue on.”

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