“Shawinigan handshake”

Strangulation salutation for one’s critics; the opposite of political glad-handing.

One of 19 children, Jean Chrétien had a rough-and-tumble childhood in Shawinigan, Quebec. His father worked as a machinist at the town’s paper plant and Chrétien himself would take a turn at the mill to help pay for his legal education. Asked by a biographer what his best subject was in school, the “Little Guy from Shawinigan” replied, “Street fighting, I was the best at that.”

Fast forward to 1996. Chrétien is Prime Minister and political tensions are running high in the nation’s capital. It’s just months after the Quebec Referendum. And the entry of an armed intruder into the prime ministerial home at 24 Sussex had Chrétien – and the RCMP – on edge.

The old street brawler might not have been spoiling for a fight. But in early 1996, he got one. Chrétien took matters into his own hands when he was engulfed in a crowd of protesters at a Flag Day event in Gatineau. The 61-year-old PM seized protester Bill Clennett by the neck and chin, thrusting him to one side with apparent ease.

By the time RCMP officers had wrestled Clennett to the ground, the swatted gadfly had a broken tooth and the PM soon had a new nickname. The Ottawa Sun ran the headline “Hull Hogan”, casting Chrétien in the role of professional political wrestler. But opposition critics won the name game that day, swiftly pairing the strangulation with a salutation. The “Shawinigan Handshake” was born.

The dust-up still has a grip on the Canadian imagination. Quebec brewery Trou du Diable makes a “Pugnacious Strong Ale” called Shawinigan Handshake, with a label artfully depicting the fateful moment. And Chrétien’s own account of the altercation – “If you’re in my way, I’m walking” – is now the title of a book on the decline of Canada’s working class.

Image source: Phil Nolan, Global

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