Trudeau gets an earful from veteran, chiefs, disabled participant in London, Ont.
Deaf audience members frustrated while Afghanistan veteran told Trudeau pension cheque hasn't come in 6 months
Justin Trudeau's campaign-style town hall forum attracted the largest crowd yet in London, Ont., Friday night, with military issues, accessibility troubles and First Nations leaders dampening the mood.
The prime minister took about a dozen questions from an energized audience of 1,500, while outside, nearly as many people were turned away due to lack of space.
The town hall's location had to be changed twice for the event, an effort to accommodate demand, but attendee Lorrie Vassos pointed out the empty seats in her row.
"Deaf people were supposed to be sitting here," she said. However, an interpreter was not allowed outside to let them know the RSVP process changed and the local organizers did not tell them and bring them to the seats that were reserved for them, Vassos said.
Trudeau apologized saying he would ensure accessibility logistics were better organized in the future.
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Recently retired Afghanistan veteran Joseph Angelini made an emotional plea to the prime minister, shakily holding the microphone and admitting he had been going through a rough time since leaving the military.
His pension cheques had not arrived in six months, he told Trudeau.
"I've had to rely on my father to buy groceries and that is unacceptable."
Trudeau was quick to agree and he told Angelini his file, and those of other veterans in similar situations, would be examined.
"Thank you for your continued service to your country for pointing out things we are not doing well enough."
The military did come up one more time when an audience member asked about the Canadian government's business dealings with countries that have poor human rights records.
"I can't be here in London and hear your question and not think of the issue with the General Dynamics contract," Trudeau responded.
The high-profile $15-billion deal involves light armoured vehicles that General Dynamics makes in London and are sent to Saudi Arabia.
"Hundreds of families in London benefit from the industry and are benefiting from a contract that was signed by a previous government," Trudeau said.
He told the audience that all parties agreed when the issue was before Parliament that it would not be right to cancel any contract signed by a previous government. However, the Green Party was in favour of cancelling the contract.
At least two local First Nation chiefs were sitting near the front of the hall and while one stood up to challenge Trudeau on his response to tackling mental health issues on reserves, the prime minister publicly dismissed her comments.
Chippewa of the Thames leader Leslee White-eye said she was angry with the tone Trudeau took, and while he offered to talk to her afterward, she said he fails to act in a way that reflects a move toward reconciliation.
"I wanted to re-frame the conversation away from us being talked about like social problems. We can work in partnership, instead of folks being in need of help with whatever crisis is coming our way.
Chief Randall Phillips from Oneida First Nation also noted after the forum that Trudeau talks about improving living conditions on reserves, touting $8.4 billion earmarked, but no money has arrived.
Phillips said one family who lost a father and four children in a house fire in December is still homeless on the reserve, southwest of London.
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"I was going to ask him when we are going to see some investments on the ground because it's been over the year and there's been no word from Ottawa. I think it's a lot of political talk and no action."
- An earlier version of this story said all parties agreed when the issue was before Parliament when in fact the Green Party was opposed.Jan 20, 2017 12:30 PM ET