Hunter Tootoo resigns after ‘very difficult situation’: Trudeau

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Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Hunter Tootoo, has resigned from the federal cabinet. He is also leaving the Liberal caucus. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Hunter Tootoo has resigned from the federal cabinet. He is also leaving the Liberal caucus. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added to the mystery surrounding the sudden resignation of Hunter Tootoo, who stunned observers on Tuesday by announcing that he is resigning as minister in charge of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and quitting the Liberal caucus to seek treatment for unspecified addiction issues.

“I have decided to seek treatment for addiction issues and ask for privacy at this time,” Tootoo said in a brief statement.

“This was his own choice after a very difficult situation and we’ll have nothing further to say on the matter,” Trudeau said on Parliament Hill, before making his way into his party’s weekly caucus meeting Wednesday morning.

Trudeau did not specify what kind of addiction issues Tootoo is seeking treatment for, nor did he elaborate on what he meant by “very difficult situation.”

Alcohol addiction?

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the 53-year-old Member of Parliament for the Arctic territory of Nunavut, had been drinking heavily at the recent Liberal convention in Winnipeg.

Tootoo became the second Inuk to be appointed as a senior federal cabinet minister, after former Conservative minister Leona Aglukkaq, who he defeated in the federal election on Oct. 19.

He is the first cabinet minister Trudeau’s young government has lost.

Different treatment

Adding to the political intrigue over Tootoo’s resignation is the fact that his addiction issues are being handled very differently from how they were dealt with when, earlier this year, another Liberal MP announced he was entering a “wellness program” to adopt an “alcohol free lifestyle.”

Seamus O’Regan, a newly elected MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, did not leave the Liberal caucus at the time, while Trudeau went on Twitter to say his thoughts were with his “friend & colleague” and that O’Regan had his “full support.”

This time Trudeau issued a curt statement announcing Tootoo’s departure and subsequent changes to the Liberal cabinet.

But there was no shortage of well wishes from Tootoo’s friends and supporters online. His famous cousin, NHL player Jordin Tootoo tweeted his support.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also relayed her well wishes on Twitter.

House leader Dominic LeBlanc will be assuming Tootoo’s ministerial roles in addition to his existing duties, Trudeau said in a statement.

With files from CBC News

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  The elephant in the room – Mental health in Arctic communities, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Finland:  OECD ‘concerned’ over high suicide rates in Finland, YLE News

Sweden:  County in Sweden’s North has best mental health in country, Radio Sweden

United States:  In Northwest Arctic, teens lead the way in suicide prevention, Alaska Dispatch

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Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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