It started as a routine political visit. At about 1 p.m. on May 7 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila, stepped from a limousine and began walking toward the Beaver Curling Club in Moncton, N.B., where Mulroney planned to address the annual meeting of the provincial Conservative party. But within seconds they were surrounded by about 250 placard-waving demonstrators, many of them workers who had been laid off from the federally owned Canadian National railway repair shops in Moncton. Mila Mulroney threw her hands over her head as police struggled to clear a path.
Suddenly, she doubled over, apparently jabbed in the stomach by a demonstrator’s placard. Seconds later the Mulroneys reached the safety of the curling club, and after Mila spent a few minutes recovering in the ladies’ room, Mulroney gave his speech.
But the incident did not end there. It raised issues touching on security arrangements and it launched a week of political charge and countercharge, with Mulroney attempting to pin the blame on the opposition New Democrats. Mulroney fired the first shot moments after he entered the curling club, when he said that some of the demonstrators were “associated” with the NDP because they were union members. New Democrats reacted furiously. NDP Leader Ed Broadbent said that “violence against Mrs. Mulroney or anyone else is of course totally unacceptable” behavior. But he added: “I
have worked opposite four prime ministers, and Brian Mulroney is the only one who would demean the office of prime minister by trying to make a partisan issue of such a matter.”
Several senior government officials said privately that they were embarrassed by Mulroney’s attempts to link the NDP to the violence. They said that Mulroney himself has increased the risk of attack by insisting that his personal security be kept to a minimum.
Later in the week several Conservative MPs who had attended the party’s regular caucus meeting said that Mulroney had railed against the “God damned press” during the session for
what he described as biased coverage of the Moncton incident. According to the MPs, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, Mulroney said that the media had become an “enemy” of the party. Another MP said Mulroney told the caucus that if one of the demonstrators had had a knife, his wife could have been killed in the incident.
The Prime Minister told reporters after the incident that his wife was “struck violently in the stomach by a demonstrator, a big guy carrying an antiprivatization placard.” But shortly after she was struck, Mila said that she was “just winded with an elbow.” After a preliminary investigation, RMCP officers, who are responsible for the Prime Minister’s security, said that they were convinced that Mila Mulroney was indeed hit by a demonstrator’s placard. In the House of Commons, Solicitor General James Kelleher said that the
Mounties were treating the incident “as an assault under the Criminal Code.” Still, police did not lay charges. Officers on the scene arrested two unionists at the Moncton demonstration but later released them. One was protest organizer Bernard Beukeveld, a machinist, who was arrested as the Mulroneys left the curling club. Witnesses said that Beukeveld threw his red CN hard hat in the direction of the Mulroneys, but it did not hit them.
Moncton labor leaders were more upset by the arrest of Greg Murphy, president of the Moncton local of the International Carmen’s Union and a former federal NDP candidate. Thomas Barron of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway, Transport & General Workers said that Murphy was three metres from the Mulroneys when four RCMP officers pinned him to the ground, handcuffed him, then led him to a police wagon while blood trickled from a cut cheek. Police later released Murphy without laying charges. Barron said that Murphy was then taken to a local hospital, where an electrocardiogram showed that he had suffered “a borderline heart attack.” He added that Murphy was considering taking legal action against the police.
One other person at the demonstration also ended up briefly in hospital. Jill Vincent, an 18-year-old Conservative delegate to the meeting, was knocked to the ground and trampled. Doctors examined her bruised legs for injuries but released her shortly after.
But perhaps the most serious wound was to the reputation of the RCMP officers who are entrusted with protecting the Mulroneys. Mulroney has made their job more difficult by abandoning the armored limousine and the tight security that former prime minister Pierre Trudeau used. Mulroney has frequently demonstrated his indifference to personal risk by plunging into crowds to shake hands or strolling alone through the Ottawa neighborhood around his official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. A senior government security official told Maclean’s last week that the RCMP had planned to introduce tighter security procedures for the Prime Minister within two months, but the changes will now be introduced sooner. And after the Moncton incident, even Mulroney may now accept greater restrictions on his movements.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.