Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a town hall meeting at Western University, January 11, 2018. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Hecklers Interrupt Trudeau Town Hall

A young boy asked Justin Trudeau how he deals with “haters”, and as luck would have it, he got his answer in the form of an example, as the prime minister was interrupted by a heckler while he was trying to respond.

The tense standoff was one of two that Trudeau dealt with during his London town hall meeting Thursday at Western University’s Alumni Hall.

Trudeau was telling the boy that he has a strong sense of self, a good circle of friends to keep him grounded, and the importance of listening to other people’s point of view when a woman in the crowd began shouting. She raged about free speech and former ISIS fighters being allowed into Canada.

“Ma’am, we are in a dialogue right here… this is not the spirit of dialogue. I was making my way around and I might have actually asked you to ask a question but you don’t seem to be listening,” Trudeau said to the woman but was quickly interrupted again.

This time the woman took aim at the decision to hold the town hall at a university instead of at a venue “where the regular folk” could attend. The comment drew groans and boos from the crowd.

“You are taking time away from people who have questions who are willing to listen. You have made yourself heard,” Trudeau told her. “Let’s give this ma’am a round of applause please for her passion for her country, her willingness to stand up. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you for sharing.”

Despite being encouraged by Trudeau to stay, the woman chose to leave, but not before she gave him the middle finger.

The second heckler of the night was not given the same choice. He was forcibly removed from the venue by police after twice interrupting Trudeau with shouts about corrupt judges.

“You’re disrupting the process here… will you stop shouting, sir, then you won’t be disturbing everyone here,” Trudeau calmly said to the man.

“You’re disturbing me,” the man fired back.

The rest of Trudeau’s hour and 20-minute long question and answer period was relatively tame. The 2,300 seat venue was filled to capacity. The crowd greeted the prime minister with thunderous applause and a standing ovation when he walked in with his tie loosened and his sleeves casually rolled up.

Trudeau answered questions about immigrants who have to re-apply for professional certification upon arrival to the country, how Canada plans to lead the artificial intelligence industry and protecting Indigenous human rights and communities.

One little girl asked Trudeau “what does true Canadian culture look like?”

“It doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from, what your background is. If you believe in working hard to build that success, respect your neighbours, and understand that our diversity is a source of strength, you get to be Canadian,” Trudeau answered.

Chief Randall Phillips of the Oneida Nation of the Thames reminded the prime minister that Indigenous communities are in need of better infrastructure and serious investments. He asked how Trudeau would encourage his government and the Opposition to move Indigenous communities forward.

“Every single minister in our government got told that working on reconciliation and a nation-to-nation relationship is their responsibility… we recognize that the damage and the trauma and marginalization and the harm done for generations by Canada to Indigenous peoples will take time to heal. We will have to work very, very hard to get this right,” said Trudeau.

The evening ended with Chief Myeengun Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation presenting Trudeau with an eagle feather.

“There is no other higher act of honour to give somebody an eagle feather,” said Henry following the town hall.” My nation thought that in order to make this relationship work we have to reciprocate. We can’t just have the Government try to solve our problems because we have answers to those problems. When I heard [Trudeau] speak, not just today but in the past, I really think in his heart he wants to make some changes but he doesn’t always know how. So what the eagle feather signifies is that we will work together, stronger, to come up with those answers.”

Deana Ruston, who was the first in line to get a seat at the town hall, said she waited outside in the rain for four hours.

“I think it is really important for the everyday citizen to get involved and take these opportunities as a way to learn and share our thoughts,” said Ruston, who is also a member of MP Peter Fragiskatos’ youth council.

Katie Birch, a first-year political science student at Western waited in line for over two hours and was very impressed with Trudeau’s performance.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” said Birch. “He was very well spoken, very encouraging. I have never been to one of these so it was very cool to see it firsthand, with all of the politicians around. He was very inspiring.”

This was Trudeau’s third town hall of his cross-country tour. It was attended by many of his Cabinet ministers, who are in town for a Cabinet retreat at the London Convention Centre.

Trudeau’s next town hall will be held in Quebec City on January 18.