Trudeau does not defend actions of Canadian ambassador

Prime minister yet to take public stance over Kevin Vickers’s clash with Dublin protester

A protester has been arrested after disrupting a military ceremony commemorating the British soldiers who died in the Easter Rising. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

The Canadian prime minister has failed to defend his country’s ambassador to Ireland after the diplomat grappled with a protester at a memorial event in Dublin last week.

Ambassador Kevin Vickers, who came to prominence when he shot dead a gunman at the Canadian House of Commons in 2014, grabbed republican protester Brian Murphy when he disrupted a commemoration service for British soldiers killed in the Easter Rising last week.

Footage showed Mr Murphy emerge from the crowd and shout “shame” and “insult to Ireland” before Mr Vickers grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket and pulled him away.

Mr Murphy was arrested. Gardaí would not say if they received any complaints about Mr Vickers’s actions.

Public stance

The incident has generated controversy in Canada, where prime minister Justin Trudeau has come under pressure to take a public stance on the envoy’s actions.

At his party conference in Winnipeg, Mr Trudeau declined to answer when asked by a reporter whether he would recall Mr Vickers.

“It’s always easy to second-guess choices people make in emergency or unexpected situations,” Mr Trudeau said at a press conference. “Canadians expect our diplomats abroad to do the right thing, to represent us well. We’re a country of people who believe in helping out and being part of the solutions, not part of the problems. That’s the perspective I take on this particular issue.”

No grudge

Mr Murphy, who said he found it “objectionable” and “unpalatable” to be commemorating British soldiers killed in 1916, said he did not hold a grudge against Mr Vickers and appreciated the publicity the ambassador’s intervention had given his cause.

He had so many interview requests from Canadian media in the past few days that he was struggling to fit them all in, he said. “If he hadn’t done what he did, I probably would have got a few inches in the papers,” he added.

Mr Murphy, from Rathcoole in Co Dublin, said he thought Mr Vickers acted “without thinking” by tackling him. “I don’t hold a grudge towards him. He did what he did because he perceived the situation differently to everybody else there,” he said. “I think he over-reacted. The issue for the Irish government and the Canadian government is: what if he does it again?

“The one thing I would be critical of is that he has refused to say anything about it. He’s hiding behind his diplomatic status.”

Mr Vickers has come in for criticism at home. An editorial in the Toronto Star said that while the former security officer was “a genuine hero” for his actions in the House of Commons in 2014, his “manhandling” of Mr Murphy was “bizarre, to say the least”.

‘Not supposed to interfere’

“The fact remains that Vickers was way out of line. He’s no longer a security officer; he’s a diplomat. And one thing diplomats are emphatically not supposed to do is interfere in the domestic politics of the country they’re appointed to.

“Let the Irish sort out the legacy of the Easter Rising; we have our own touchy issues to deal with.”

In the Globe and Mail, columnist Marsha Lederman wrote there was “nothing remotely funny” about the incident. “A diplomat is supposed to behave diplomatically. One has to wonder if he will have issues carrying on as ambassador to Ireland,” she wrote.

Asked to comment, the Canadian foreign ministry referred to a short statement it issued after the incident.

“Ambassador Vickers is safe and was not injured during the incident,” it stated.

Mr Murphy said he was not a member of any political party but was involved with the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association, which offers support to republican prisoners in Portlaoise and Maghaberry prisons.