The CEO of a local shelter for battered women said she has filed a human rights complaint against Manitoba’s deputy premier after he referred to people who work for the charity as “do-good white people” in an email.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister and Deputy Premier Eric Robinson made the comments in an email exchange with Nahanni Fontaine, Special Advisor on Aboriginal Women’s Issues, about a fundraising event for Osborne House last year organized by a local clothing boutique that included a performance by a burlesque dancer.

Nahanni wrote to Robinson expressing concern about Osborne House’s involvement. “This is so bad and looks so bad and is simply a bad idea on the part of the Osborne House E.D.," said Nahanni.

"Like, seriously, what is she thinking?”

Robinson responded, saying he shared Nahanni’s concerns. "On the surface, it is not a very good idea, and moreover further exploits an already vulnerable group in society,” Robinson said. 

“It also further demonstrates the ignorance of do-good white people without giving it a second thought."

Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt discovered the comments after she filed a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and got a copy of the emails a few months ago.

Judt called the comment racist and called on Premier Greg Selinger to reprimand Robinson.

“We were astounded that this is the kind of racial hate that is being spread around by the deputy premier and his advisor,” said Judt.

Judt said the comments are part of a pattern of discrimination against the charity. “Well, based on what I see here, you know there's quite an active campaign of racism and hate going on,” she said.

“How dare anyone say we're not capable of serving our clients because we are white?”

Judt’s complaint also includes Nahanni and two other officials from family services who she said encouraged the racist attacks against her and Osborne House.

Robinson issued a statement apologizing for his choice of words:

“The work Osborne House does is important for our community, especially Aboriginal women who are suffering from the generational effects of discrimination and exploitation. I did not mean to offend anyone with the words I used. I still feel the event was in poor taste and could have been better thought out, given the clientele of Osborne House are women who have been exploited and victimized. Upon further reflection and discussion with the Premier, the words I chose in the moment were regrettable, and for that I apologize.”

A Conservative MLA who was the target of an anti-gay statement last week by another NDP MLA condemned Robinson's comments. “We have got to smarten up as elected officials and we have to start watching what we say and what we put on the record,” said Ron Schuler.

Premier Greg Selinger had no comment Friday on whether Robinson or his staff would face discipline over the email comments about Osborne House.