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Transit commissioner apologizes for ‘gender equity’ comments but doesn’t believe they were sexist
Published Thursday, December 19, 2019 12:14PM EST Last Updated Thursday, December 19, 2019 12:21PM EST
OTTAWA -- “Today, I made remarks at the Transit Commission meeting that were maladroit.”
That’s how citizen Transit Commissioner Michael Olsen begins his written apology to his fellow commissioners, following comments he made Wednesday .
- Male transit commissioner says foul stench at Parliament station is a 'gender equity thing', women are more sensitive to bad smells
During discussions about the source of a lingering, foul odour at the Parliament LRT station, Olsen suggested the problem was a “gender equity thing” because he did not smell anything Wednesday morning, whereas Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert could.
Olsen suggested perhaps it was because women have a more acute sense of smell that Wright-Gilbert noticed what he did not.
The comment prompted Wright-Gilbert to demand an apology, which Olsen was reluctant to give, at first.
He sent a letter late Wednesday, admitting fault and apologizing “without reseveration.”
“I know that my original apology to Commissioner Wright-Gilbert has been labelled as insincere. I understand why. I hope she, and the rest of you, will accept these words as sincere. My comments were ill-conceived. I should not have said what I did,” he wrote.
But the next morning, Wright-Gilbert posted a thread on Twitter, in which she said a broader picture was being missed.
Wright-Gilbert said Olsen’s comments were dismissive of her line of questioning, which she said was more about transparency surrounding the issue of the smell at Parliament Station, and not the smell itself.
Wright-Gilbert went on to say the issue is not whether women have a better sense of smell than men, on average, but about sexism.
Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s CFRA Live with Dahlia Kurtz, Olsen reiterated his apology, but stopped short of agreeing that his comments were sexist.
“In my apology, I acknowledged that my comments were maladroit and I take full responsibility for them,” he said. “I don’t want to address—Sarah [Wright-Gilbert] has an opinion on whether or not what I said was sexist or misogynistic. She’s entitled to her opinion.”
He said his comments were not intended to be taken in a sexist light.
“I can’t speak to how people will conclude that it was sexist or misogynistic. If they do, they do. But that’s not how it was intended. Not at all.”
Olsen said he was simply pointing out that he had not experienced the issue Wright-Gilbert had been asking about.
“I just mentioned that she did go on about that. It was a fair bit of time that she spent on that issue, which is her right to do so, of course; I don’t object to that in the slightest,” he said. “I just mentioned it was interesting that she smelled something at Parliament. I was there; I smelt nothing. I was not dismissing her line of questioning. I was just pointing out a fact.”
Ultimately, he said he was wrong to make the comments, but had no control over how they were received.
“I’ve taken full responsibility for my comments. How [Wright-Gilbert] wants to spin what they were, or what my motivation behind them was, I can’t control that. She’s allowed to reach her conclusions. I accept that.”
The City has admitted the smell at Parliament Station, upon which many transit users of all sexes have commented, was the result of a sewer line that was punctured in August.
At Wednesday’s meeting, OC Transpo Director of Customer Systems Pat Scrimgeour said the smell was traced to several possible causes before the punctured sewer line was identified as the source. Scrimgeour said work to repair the puncture began in November and was completed Dec. 13.