Trudeau calls out heckler: 'Your racism has no place here'
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference in Ottawa in June. (Chris Wattie/Reuters) August 21 at 5:39 PM
TORONTO â" Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is no stranger to hecklers. At a stop on a cross-country town hall tour earlier this year, he was even heckled while answering a young boyâs question about how he responds to âhaters.â
Now, the prime ministerâs replies are under the microscope as critics accuse him of going too far in accusing a woman of racism at a corn roast in the town of Sabrevois, Quebec, last week.
In the incident, which was captured on video, a woman in the crowd repeatedly shouts at him in French, asking whether the federal government would be repaying the province of Quebec âthe $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants.â A man standing beside her appears to join in the heckling, yelling, âWe are not in Mohawk territory.â
Trudeau, standing before the crowd on a small stage, tells the woman that her âintoleranceâ is unwelcome and admonishes the man for his ânot very politeâ comments about indigenous people.
But his reprimands, which were largely greeted with rapturous applause from the crowd, were not enough to shut down the womanâs attacks.
As he leaves the stage, the video shows the woman head directly toward him, demanding to know if he is âintolerant toward the âQuÃ©bÃ©cois de souche,ââ a racially loaded term about the purity of bloodlines that refers to Quebecers who can trace their ancestry back to the earliest French settlers.
âMadame, your racism has no place here,â Trudeau snaps back.
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According to the Canadian Press, the woman, who has identified herself on social media as a member of a right-wing, anti-immigrant group called Storm Alliance, said she was âpretty happyâ that she played a role in his âblowing a gasket.â
Nevertheless, critics pounced on Trudeauâs riposte, accusing him of ducking a legitimate question about the Liberal governmentâs handling of immigration and condemning him for calling the woman racist.
Andrew Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservatives, said in a statement that Trudeau was âonce again using name-calling and personal attacks to shut down legitimate criticism of his government,â adding, âNobody has done more to divide Canadians than he has.â
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, who has frequently described the influx of migrants entering Canada from the United States as a âcrisis,â said Trudeauâs response was âirresponsibleâ and t hat by calling the woman racist, he was âcheapening use of the word.â
Trudeau defended himself Monday at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Amazon warehouse facility near Ottawa.
âHiding behind half-truths and torquing up fears is something that I and our government will always call out,â he said, ânot just because itâs a problem for us, but because itâs a dangerous path for any democracy to be on.â
The altercation with the heckler comes on the heels of a flurry of tweets from Conservative lawmaker Maxime Bernier in which he said that âmore diversityâ and âradical multiculturalismâ would destroy Canada. Scheer insisted Bernier âdoes not speak for the Conservative Party of Canada on any issue.â
The issue of migrants arriving in Canada on foot from the United States has proved an ongoing headache for the Trudeau government, with provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec complaining about the rising costs of housing the mig rants. After two consecutive months of decline, the number of border-crossing asylum seekers arriving in Canada jumped nearly 30 percent, to 1,634, in July â" far fewer than the more than 5,700 who arrived when numbers peaked last August.
In response to escalating criticism, Trudeau revamped his cabinet in July and created a new cabinet position for border security and âirregular migration.â
Darrell Bricker, chief executive of the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs, said while the federal election in 2019 is more likely to be about issues such as health care and taxes than it is about immigration, âCanadians are not Teletubbies. Theyâre not soft and cuddly over these issues.â
In Quebec, where some people feel their culture is under threat, messages like Bernierâs are likely to resonate, he added.
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