Justin Trudeau’s reaction to heckling has come under scrutiny again after an incident in the town of Sabrevois, Quebec, on Aug. 16.
This time, he’s under fire for accusing a woman of racism.
Trudeau, was addressing a crowd at a corn roast when a woman — later identified as Diane Blain — began to repeatedly shout at him. Blain can be heard in video of the exchange asking the prime minister when he would pay Quebec back for the “the $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants.”
The question appears to refer to the money Quebec — the main entry point for people seeking asylum in Canada — has spent on asylum seeker costs. The federal government has pledged $36 million to Quebec, $11 million to Ontario and $3 million to Manitoba.
The exchange lasts for several more minutes, with Trudeau drawing attention to federal spending on social services like the guaranteed income supplement for seniors and the Canada Child Benefit, and Blain accusing him of not answering her question.
Meanwhile, a man standing next to Blain periodically interrupts the prime minister to yell: “We are not in Mohawk territory.”
As Blain repeatedly refers to “illegal immigrants” Trudeau extolls Canadian society’s immigrant roots, its strong identity and its inherent diversity. He tells her “intolerance regarding immigrants” and diversity does not belong in Canada.
Blain asks Trudeau if he is tolerant of Québécois de souche — or, “old stock” Quebecers — and he responds that he is “tolerant of all perspectives.”
The exchange degenerates into a face-to-face shouting match when Trudeau enters the crowd to shake hands with Liberal supporters and Blain approaches him.
This is the point where Trudeau, leaning toward Blain, tells her: “Your racism has no place here.”
Conservatives have fixated on that moment, accusing Trudeau of shutting down criticism of his party with “demonizing attacks.”
In a series of Tweets, Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative party, charged Trudeau with using “vile insults” to polarize the debate around immigration.
“Concerned about illegal border crossers? You’re a racist. Worried about the cost? You’re un-Canadian,” he said.
Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP and Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, said Trudeau’s use of the word “racism” in the exchange cheapens and “demeans the importance and severity” of it.
Blain has since been identified as a member of the Front Patriotique du Québec, a small nationalist group that opposes Islam and immigration.
Blain’s refusal to be served by a Muslim woman at a dental clinic in Montreal made the news in 2015.
Trudeau isn’t backing down
Trudeau made it clear during an event in Ottawa on Aug. 19 that he doesn’t plan to apologize or retract his words.
Instead, he vowed to expose divisive politics, fear mongering and the spread of misinformation when they threaten “the fabric of this country.”
“One of the things that we are facing in the world right now is a rise of extreme populism, of the politics of fear, of division,” he said. “Of a kind of polarization that has short-term political advantages in some cases but ends up creating fault lines between communities.”
What do you think? Was Trudeau’s response to a heckler allegedly linked to nationalist, anti-immigration groups appropriate?