June 25, 2008

A Contrite Margaret Trudeau Talks Frankly About Her Drinking and Driving Acquittal


TORONTO - Two years after revealing her struggle with bipolar disorder, a straight-talking Margaret Trudeau brought her continued war against the stigma of mental illness to a Toronto audience Wednesday complete with a contrite explanation of her recent drinking and driving acquittal.

"I can finally talk about this, because it's over," Trudeau said of her "humiliating" May 30, 2004, arrest for impaired driving. Trudeau said she was driving home from an Ottawa barbecue after having "too much wine to drink" when she was stopped by police.

After a lengthy legal battle, Trudeau was acquitted last month when a judge ruled her Charter rights were violated by police.

The court found that Trudeau's right to choose her lawyer was infringed upon because police told her no one answered the phone when a call was placed to a lawyer she picked, rather than saying an answering machine picked up the call.

"I shouldn't have got off. I was over the limit... I honestly did not know that I had had too much to drink," Trudeau told an audience of occupational therapists at the University of Toronto.

"It was a very humiliating, horrible, awful, expensive life lesson."

Trudeau, invited to speak about mental health issues, also detailed for the audience her extensive use of marijuana as a means to cope with her problems - a habit she said she's now kicked.

From her marriage to a man 30 years her senior, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, to her association with The Rolling Stones, Trudeau has attracted controversy since she entered the public eye at the age of 22.

Her marriage to Trudeau in 1971 and their subsequent divorce in 1984 was covered extensively in the media.

But - as she revealed in May 2006 - behind the facade of her public life, she was suffering from debilitating bouts of depression and mania.

"The shame is not having a mental illness or a mood disorder," the 59-year old told the crowd.

"The shame is having one is not getting treatment and not getting help."

Trudeau has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings. Those suffering from the disorder can experience both euphoria and extreme depression.

Trudeau's battle with the disease started after the birth of her second son Alexandre on Christmas Day, 1973.

"It was called baby blues, it was called a hormonal change... it certainly wasn't called what it was," she said.

Over the next 30 years, her depression was triggered by boredom, the death of a pet, stress, and most painfully, the death of her son Michel in 1998.

"That was rock bottom," she said.

Today, Trudeau shares her struggle because she hopes to help those who continue to battle mental illness.

"It comes out of a great sense of gratitude, because I know what it's like to feel marginalized and defeated and humiliated by suffering from a mental illness," she said.

"I just feel so grateful and I want other people to know that while there isn't a cure, there is recovery."

Trudeau said her disease made her lose control of her life.

"I made a lot of mistakes. My judgment had often been impaired. I made bad choices. I hurt people around me," she said.

Despite the challenges she's faced, Trudeau said it isn't difficult to talk about her illness.

"I'm an honest person and I've had quite a remarkable life journey," she said. "And, the things that I am talking about - while they're interesting personal stories - they're very typical of what people who are suffering what I suffered will go through."

Trudeau knows that she isn't cured and will likely battle her disorder for the rest of her life.

Still, she says, she is cured of the fear that prevented her from seeking help.

"If I do fall, I know I'll reach out and let somebody help me."