Provincial cabinet minister resigns over 'race card' comment about Innu Nation

Environment Minister Perry Trimper issued a statement today acknowledging the hurt caused by his statements and saying he is stepping down, effective immediately. Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, joined by members of his cabinet, Gerry Byrne, left to right, Perry Trimper, Eddie Joyce, Andrew Parsons and Siobahn Coady, speaks with the media after being sworn in as the province's 13th premier at Government House, in St. John's, N.L., on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A provincial cabinet minister in Newfoundland and Labrador has resigned for making comments in a voicemail message deemed racist by one of the province's largest Indigenous groups.

Perry Trimper said Friday he would step down as environment minister, effective immediately, after the Innu Nation released an audio recording in which Trimper is heard saying the Innu are prone to playing "the race card."

Trimper issued a statement acknowledging the hurt he caused, saying he would step back from his ministerial responsibilities to focus on repairing relationships.

"While my words do not represent my values, I recognize that they were insensitive," said Trimper, who was appointed to cabinet a week ago.

"Understanding and sensitivity are critical to relationship building, and I welcome all opportunities for healing, which includes the process of reconciliation."

Liberal Premier Dwight Ball accepted Trimper's resignation, saying the Labrador politician showed remorse and will receive cultural sensitivity training.

"My government values the relationship with the Innu Nation and holds the Innu Nation in the highest respect," the premier said.

On Thursday, Trimper apologized to the grand chief of the Innu Nation, Greg Rich, and his executive assistant Dominic Rich, who received the voicemail message earlier in the week.

The recording starts with a low-key message from Trimper about vehicle registration, but the recording continues to pick up a conversation after Trimper fails to hang up his phone.

"They're accusing us of having bias on motor vehicle registration, saying that people taking the test don't have adequate translators, and it's their God-given right to have adequate translation," Trimper can be heard saying on the recording.

A person speaking with Trimper responds: "You can't have it all in every language .... They have a feeling of entitlement."

Trimper then adds: "And the race card comes up all of the time .... I've been working 30 years with you guys, don't play that on me."

Former deputy grand chief Peter Penashue responded to Trimper's comments on Twitter, saying it was a case of racial profiling.

"Here is the question I ask myself: Is this the attitude of government ministers when Indigenous peoples are not in the room?" he wrote.

Trimper offered an apology soon after the recording was released.

"I regret that I said these words," Trimper told St. John's radio station VOCM. "I need to apologize and I want to apologize .... Those words don't reflect me. I drifted away from the person I aspired to be."

He said he was aware some within the community are not satisfied with the services they are receiving, but he made it clear his comments were inappropriate and he denied being a racist.

"I'm mad at myself," he told VOCM, adding that he would work to regain the trust of his constituents. "My career has been devoted to Labrador and so much of it to the Innu."

Trimper is a former environmental scientist who had earlier served as house Speaker.

Representatives from the Innu Nation could not immediately be reached for comment.

The group represents about 2,200 people in Labrador, most of whom live in the communities of Sheshatshiu in central Labrador and Natuashish, which is on Labrador's northern coast.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

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