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Justin Trudeau, and what the need for two witnesses would have us do

Justin Trudeau

On August 4, 2000, the 28-year-old Justin Trudeau was in Creston, BC to have fun at a festival put on by a beer company. Ten days later an editorial appeared in the local newspaper, the Creston Valley Advance, alleging that Trudeau had groped reporter Rose Knight and then offered this apology: “I’m sorry. If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”

On June 6, 2018, eighteen years later, the allegations resurfaced when commentator and former Liberal Party strategist Warren Kinsella shared a clipping of the old editorial on his twitter account and later on his blog.

Will the PM apply the same standard?

Why was Kinsella bringing this up now? He wanted to know if Prime Minister Trudeau was going to treat this allegation with the same zero-tolerance approach he’d been using with other Liberals MPs. Since 2014, he has expelled two MPs from caucus, and accepted the resignation of a third from caucus, and a fourth from Cabinet, when they were faced with allegations of sexual harassment. In the most recent instance, Kent Hehr had been the Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities until he was accused of sexual harassment earlier this year. A day after the allegation – made via tweet – and before an investigation was conducted, the Prime Minister accepted Hehr’s resignation from his Cabinet post. Kinsella wanted to know “If what Kent Hehr did resulted in him being considered unfit for Cabinet, is Justin Trudeau similarly unfit?” He concluded his blog post with this question “Why aren’t you facing the same fate Kent Hehr did?”

A confusing answer

In responding to the allegations, the Prime Minister noted this event occurred long ago and stated “I am confident I did not act inappropriately.” But he went on to add that “often a man experiences an interaction as benign, or not inappropriate, and a woman, particularly in a professional context, can experience it differently.”

Was Trudeau saying he was innocent? Yes. So the reporter had wrongfully accused him? Well, no, he wasn’t going to say that.

To understand Trudeau’s answer we have to view it in light of the #MeToo movement that sprang up late last year. The movement started when, over the course of October and November, over one hundred women came forward to accuse one of Hollywood’s most powerful men, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual assault or sexual harassment. The #MeToo hashtag went viral when it was used by many others stars to make allegations against other powerful entertainment figures. It was no shock, to Christians, that in an industry that exploits women’s sexuality onscreen, women would be exploited off screen too. We could cheer as, one after another, sexual predators were being exposed.

The wrong solution

But the #MeToo movement wasn’t anchored to a Christian idea of justice, and without that foundation, it couldn’t provide the right sort of correction. Soon demands were made for the accuser to always be believed. It was said that in a he said/she said situation, the accuser is less powerful so we should presume they are telling the truth because their risks in speaking out are great and they don’t have much to gain in reporting. Trudeau echoed this position in January shortly after the allegations against Kent Hehr were made. He told the World Economic Forum that when women bring forward accusations “it is our responsibility to listen and more importantly to believe.”

This is why Hehr had to resign, even before an investigation. It’s also why Trudeau was so hesitant to say his accuser was wrong. Because the accuser must be believed.

Point people to the answer

So is Trudeau hypocritical for disciplining others facing allegations, and not resigning himself now? Maybe. But that’s not the point we should be making here. The very different lesson that needs to be learned here is that the standard Trudeau applied to others – always believing the accuser – is one that shouldn’t be applied to anyone (Matt. 7:2).

To be clear, I’m not trying to argue that Trudeau is innocent of what’s been alleged. The point is, unless another eyewitness comes forward, we can’t know…so we shouldn’t find him guilty.

After all, false accusers do exist. As Douglas Wilson noted Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor is in the Ten Commandments for a reason. This is a common sin –  it’s not like it only happens “every 25 years or so.”

So we need a better standard to guide us – we need God’s standard. And in Deut. 19:15 He tells us how to proceed:

One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

In other words, we aren’t even to entertain allegations made by just one accuser.

But what of the women who are exploited and harassed away from any witnesses? It’s only when we understand that the guilty, in such circumstances, can’t be punished that we will understand what sort of societal changes need to be made. What we need is to demand less privacy, and bring in more light. As Jesus says in John 3:20-21:

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

And like any needed change, God’s people can model it first. So what would loving the light look like? We can see it in structural changes like how, in new schools, the offices now include one wall made entirely of glass. The school counselor or principal can still meet with a student behind a closed door but they are in full view of any number of passersby. In professional settings meetings can take place in public areas, or in an office with the door open. And if ever we get a Christian movie mogul he should invite a star’s agent to accompany the star for any meeting. This isn’t a full-blown Billy Graham rule but if sexual exploitation is as common as the aftermath of the #MeToo movement has made it seem to be, then there is good reason for this move towards more accountability and less privacy.

Does that mean we’re letting Trudeau off the hook? Yes, because he should never have been on the hook in the first place. While God knows what did or didn’t happen, until and unless a second witness is found we can’t know, so we mustn’t judge.

ADDENDUM

After this article was published online, a number of issues were raised that need to be addressed.

What might a second witness be?

Some readers noted that evidence can serve as a witness: (DNA, security camera footage, electronic banking records, self-incrimination, etc.). That’s a good outworking of the biblical principle requiring multiple witnesses. Now, what sort of evidence rises to the level of being a second witness? For guidance on this point we can ask whether we would be satisfied if such evidence was used as proof against us (Matt. 7:1-2 & Matt. 7:12).

 The consistory is not the police

A concern was expressed that this article might encourage church consistories not to go to the police unless there are two witnesses when members come to them with allegations of sexual abuse.

To be clear, the government, and not the church, is tasked by God to deal with crime (1 Peter 2:13-17). So if a crime is alleged, then church leaders must report it to the authorities.

The issue of abuse and how to prevent it, and expose it, is a complex one, so it’s worth noting that this article has a limited focus. I am asking what Deut. 19:15’s two or three witness requirement would have us do in the context of the public debate about the allegation against Trudeau. As citizens of democracy, we have a say in the laws that the police administer, and we have a role in the public debate. So what direction should we give the world about the sort of laws we should have? And, just as important, what sort of rules of business etiquette can we encourage? One possibility: it should be seen as inappropriate/creepy for the powerful to invite the vulnerable to have business meetings alone in their hotel rooms.

 What about abusive marriages?

Some wondered, if this two-witness requirement was followed, whether it could make it difficult to get out of an abusive marriage. A particularly manipulative spouse might only be abusive when no one else is around to see it. The elders have to report any criminal abuse allegations to the police, but they do have a role in counseling. So if a wife claims abuse, should church leaders required two witnesses before they’d approve of a divorce?

My article doesn’t touch on how elders should apply Deut. 19:15, but this is a pressing question that needs an answer. Douglas Wilson digs further into God’s Word to addresses it in his article, “On a wife deciding to leave her husband” to explain that while two witnesses are needed to prove abuse, the same isn’t required to flee such abuse.


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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. John Zylstra

    July 12, 2018 at 5:52 am

    The argument is not about what happened or what didn’t happen. Trudeau admitted he did something. The argument is about whether what he did was serious enough to merit approbation, condemnation, and consequences. The argument is about whether what he did was bad, against the wishes of the reporter. Thus another witness is not required in this case. Trudeau is simply saying that if another MP had done what he had, it was bad. If he did it, it was not so bad. He didn’t think it was such a bad thing, but the reporter did. But if the reporter didn’t like it, he is sorry. And if he had done it to a non-reporter, he wouldn’t have been so sorry. Witnesses won’t fix that argument.

    • Reformed Perspective

      July 12, 2018 at 7:49 am

      Did he grope her or not? He says no. She says yes.

      The apology at the top of this article, that he is said to have offered to the reporter at the time, is part of the reporter’s “witnessing.” Some media accounts (but I hope not this one!) have made it seem like he has admitted to this incriminating apology, but he hasn’t.

      At one point he said “I apologized in the moment” but as you say, that is simply admitting he did “something.” But to apologize for something is not the same as owning up to groping a woman, which he has denied doing.

  2. John Zylstra

    July 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    The argument is about whether what he did was serious enough to merit approbation, condemnation, and consequences. The argument might be about what it means to grope. He touched her. She called it groping. He apologized, but not for groping, because he didn’t consider it groping, or he didn’t want others to consider it groping. did he pat her on the behind? Did he massage her waist? Did he clasp her shoulder? did clinton have sex with that woman or not? Of course not…. no intercourse. Of course yes…. fellatio for sure. In general, I would not tend to trust Trudeau, but that does not mean he was lying in this case. But was the woman lying? Is she trustworthy? Did she have motive? does she really care she was groped, or is she just making a point? “Well he groped me, but then that comes with the territory of being a woman in a drinking environment….”??? Does her minimizing of the event make it less serious? He apologized in the moment. Really? an insincere apology? No reason for it, but he will be obsequious and apologize for her vivid imagination? Does that make him trustworthy?

  3. John Zylstra

    July 14, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    The main point of Kinsella’s article is that he employed a double standard. Many of the sexual harrassment allegations are not even necessarily about “groping”. I do not usually agree with Kinsella and his perspective on many things, but in this case, he makes a good point about the double standard. Others must resign, but not Trudeau, even for the same reason. Was it necessary for Kent Hehr to resign? Does he not have the right to approach women? Trudeau’s approach to diversity is also duplicitous, when he courts the votes of diverse ethnic people, and the misgendered, and the mis-sexed, but denies the ability and need for others to maintain their reality world view on human life and sexuality. No diversity for that. This is also a double standard, and it is no wonder that now he is himself involved personally in a double standard, because it seems he has no consistencies of principles of honesty, dependability, or ethics in general. Based on the evidence. So he cannot be left off the hook, because he place himself on it.

  4. John Zylstra

    July 14, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Your article talks about the justice in punishing someone when there are no witnesses. This is not about punishing someone else; it is about the significance of public opinion on his actions. Since he would have to punish himself. In the old testament in the cases of rape, when a woman was raped in town and did not cry out, the man was assumed to be not guilty, that it was consensual. But when raped in the country, the man was assumed guilty, because she may have cried out, but no one could hear. Justice is not perfect. The actual scenario could be opposite, that the woman could not cry out because her mouth was covered, or in the country it was consensual, but she changed her mind later. Justice is rough. But public opinion will have its way based on a large number of variables, in spite of the rough misjustice that is necessary without witnesses. And public opinion is also precarious, but it is the main objective of politicians.

  5. Jaclyn van Beek

    July 15, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    Jon, I really think it’s chilling to suggest that “we aren’t even to entertain allegations made by just one accuser”. Physical evidence can also bear witness to the veracity of an allegation. How bleak it would be to be a citizen in this country if the courts required you to present two witnesses to testify that you had been assaulted, regardless of any concurrent evidence! Sexual assault is most often a private matter and it is rare that a person is victimized in front of an audience. This doesn’t seem to be a realistic burden of proof.

    To be clear, I don’t agree that the Prime Minister ought to step down simply because an allegation has been made. He seems to have admitted that something happened, but maintains he never acted inappropriately. His doublespeak about men and women experiencing interactions differently seems to me to be an admission that he misread the situation and made an advance that he assumed was going to be reciprocated (but wasn’t). I don’t think that makes him a predator. Other commenters make a good point about the double-standard, however: the PM doesn’t seem to be as concerned with due process when unflattering allegations are made about his fellow Members.

    • Reformed Perspective

      July 16, 2018 at 11:04 am

      I would agree that physical evidence, like DNA, can in some circumstances serve as the second witness, as described in Deut. 19:15.

      However, in the case of the Prime Minister, we have just him and her, and the new standard being proposed, even by the Prime Minister himself, of simply believing the victim – of relying on the testimony of just one witness – is not biblical, and, consequently, not workable.

      As you note, sexual assault most often occurs in private settings where there are just the two people. So, to prevent sexual abuse as much as we can, what we need to be up front about is that in these circumstances – when it is just he said/she said and no other witnesses (of any sort) are available – the courts can’t do anything. We need to be upfront about that so that we recognize that to prevent the powerful from taking advantage of the vulnerable, the powerful should not be allowed to be in private circumstances with the vulnerable. We need to be upfront that, because we cannot hold the powerful accountable after the fact, we have to hold them accountable beforehand, foregoing privacy to then allow for accountability.

  6. John Zylstra

    July 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Like all the cases where Trudeau fired cabinet ministers on mere accusations, this is not a case of justice per se. This woman laid no charges against Trudeau, and trudeau did not sue for slander or libel. It is a case of public perception, of public decency. Two witnesses are a biblical standard for serious cases. But as I mentioned in the case of rape, I think from Deuteronomy, a decision would be made even when no other witnesses were present. To say that only two witnesses is biblical, is incorrect. In addition, that applied to a theocracy, not to a democracy of the present sort. In addition, many cases are decided on the credibility of a single witness. And, even in the new testament, two witnesses were brought forward to condemn a man, but condemn him falsely. Two witnesses is a good guideline, but the good credibility of one good witness, outweighs the bad credibility of two bad witnesses. Although I entirely agree that not being vulnerable in private situations is a beneficial thing. However, did this incident not actually happen in a public setting? Heavy drinking can cause curtains where none should exist.

  7. Bill Wieske

    August 13, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Jon I just read your article titled “Justin Trudeau and what the need for two witnesses would have us do. I am not sure if I understood you correctly and would therefore like to clarify the following. You write at one point “The very different lesson that needs to be learned here is that the standard Trudeau applied to others – always believing the accuser – is one that shouldn’t be applied to anyone (Matt. 7:2).” It seems that you are saying this as a blanket rule regardless of the person, place or accusation. I hope that I misunderstand what you wrote or intended to write. If you come home one day to a distraught wife or daughter that says the neighbour raped her, you wouldn’t believe her? Really? If you had a child or young person say to you that another adult was sexually abusing them, you wouldn’t believe them? Really? The most important thing for any person reaching out for help in abusive situations is that they are believed! And immediately embraced and supported with promises of protection and help to bring the abuser to justice for their actions. I realize that in the process of dealing with these situations there are limitations on what can be done based on the evidence, either physical, if there are injuries or is DNA. However to say as you wrote, “always believing the accuser – is one that shouldn’t be applied to anyone (Matt. 7:2).” is very detrimental to any individual who is suffering abuse, and unfortunately there are many also in church circles as history continues to reveal to us.

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