Trudeau's London, Ont., town hall interrupted by hecklers
PM says he put electoral reform aside when he saw it was going in direction that would hurt country
Justin Trudeau's third town hall of his cross-country tour saw repeated interruptions from two persistent hecklers who interrupted questioners and attempted to shout down the prime minister before one of them had to be forcibly removed by police.
The first came when Trudeau was trying to answer a question from a young boy who asked how he deals with his "haters."
"I don't really have to worry too much about being defined by what someone thinks of me," Trudeau said, noting that, as a child, people would tell him that they did not like him because their parents didn't like his father.
A woman then stood up in the crowd and started shouting about free speech, the security threat posed by Canadians who left to join ISIS and are now beginning to return home, and the decision to locate the town hall at a university.
She was also upset about M-103, the motion passed in the House of Commons that called on federal politicians to condemn Islamophobia.
Shortly afterward, another questioner was interrupted by a man shouting at Trudeau, without the benefit of a microphone. The RCMP surrounded the man and he eventually sat down.
Not long afterwards the man stood up and threw a stack of papers from the raised seating area where he was positioned before continuing to shout at and over Trudeau as he tried to calm the heckler down.
The prime minister offered him the chance to remain in the auditorium if he remained seated and quiet, but he refused and was escorted out by security after shouting about corruption and wrongdoings of the Supreme Court.
As the man left, Trudeau explained that he was disturbing the event. The man hollered "You're disturbing me!"
The town hall at Western University was the third in a series of six such meetings, and came as Trudeau holds a two-day retreat for his cabinet in the southwestern Ontario city.
Cabinet ministers mingled with students and other members of the audience in the packed auditorium. Outside, a long queue of people, who began lining up at 1 p.m. ET, waited in the rain hoping for a seat.
During the first two town halls — in Lower Sackville, N.S. and Hamilton — the prime minister endured heckling and drew applause as he faced a broad range of questions on topics that covered everything from federal drug policy, to the Liberal government's $10.5 million payment to Omar Khadr, to concerns over former ISIS fighters returning to Canada.
In London, Trudeau, who also serves at the minister of youth, was asked about electoral reform by a questioner who said she was disappointed that he wasn't going to make sure that every vote in the country counts.
The prime minister's promise, later broken, to do away with the first-past-the-post electoral system was a vote winner among Canadians under the age of 25 in the last election. The vast majority of audience members Thursday evening also fell into that age group.
Trudeau answered that Canada's democracy could be improved, but that any attempt had to be done very carefully. It was a version of the response he had used in the past.
"Changing the way we vote, changing the way we function as a democracy and as democratic institutions is an important thing and is something you have to get right," Trudeau said. "Because once you change something, sometimes it's difficult to change it back."
Trudeau explained that he is in favour of a system that lets voters rank their choices, rather than one that encourages voting against candidates.
"I wasn't going to do something that I felt would harm Canada and weaken our democracy just to tick a box off on an electoral platform," he said.
"I understand that you were disappointed about that but ultimately, my responsibility is to do things that are good for this country and when I saw that the electoral reform was going in a direction that wasn't going to be good for this country I put that promise aside."
Trudeau was also asked about the degeneration of political dialogue, and said his government's public policy is based on informed thought and evidence over rhetoric.
"It might win elections, but [rhetoric] doesn't leave society or the country any better off. And I do believe that reason will win out over time," as long as it comes with passion, he said.
Trudeau's next town hall will be in Quebec City on Jan. 18. Later in the month, he will host town halls in Winnipeg and Edmonton, but no specific dates for those events have been released.
The evening finished with a question about the government's approach and commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Trudeau said he gave his ministers a clear mandate to do something every past government had failed to do: Change the fundamental nation-to-nation relationship.
But he said the long-term solutions to the problems caused by residential schools must ultimately come from Indigenous leaders, not Parliament Hill.
"No matter how we might have a great idea in Ottawa on how to fix it, the solution can't come from Ottawa," he said.
Trudeau said it will be a long, slow process that must be defined and delivered by Indigenous people.
The government is working to help preserve Indigenous language and culture and said that as a Quebecer, he understands the need to "resist assimilation."