Tensions were high in Kamloops with the arrival of the Prime Minister on Jan. 9. With Justin Trudeau’s first town hall of 2019 scheduled for the Tournament Capital, his appearance was met with groups of protesters and long lines of community members on campus hoping to find a seat at the rare political event.
As to be expected when the Prime Minister comes in close contact with members of the public, his town hall was bookended by crowds of people trying their luck at snagging a selfie with the Canadian Liberal leader.
When the floor finally opened to the public, Trudeau was met with quite a mix of questions, the first of which being “what’s your favourite part of the day?” To which the Prime Minister replied with his soon to be five-year-old son crawling into his bed in the morning to cuddle.
This question was followed by a more political one as to how Canadians can invest their money in green energy rather than fossil fuel companies. Trudeau went on to talk about Canada’s transition to clean energy and how we can find sustainable solutions with a clean, positive outlook, mentioning that he was “a little more optimistic” than previously mentioned by David Suzuki, who as Trudeau put it, “tends to disagree quite vehemently on a number of things.”
Not long after these comments, an Indigenous man from the far side of the gym rose up and heckled Trudeau calling him a “weak leader and a liar.” This interruptive exchange was followed by a question from Tilly, an Indigenous woman.
“Today I want to ask you, what are you going to do to stop oppressing and holding our people under your colonization? When are you gonna give us our rights back? When are you gonna start giving a shit about who we are as people and not seeing us just for our land?” Tilly said.
Her question was received with applause and other outbursts from the crowd. Someone could be heard yelling “genocide,” in the audience before Trudeau responded.
“Thank you for your question,” Trudeau started his response. “Canada has a long and terrible history in regards to Indigenous peoples. We have consistently failed as a country to live up to the spirit and original intent of the treaties. We have not treated Indigenous peoples as partners and stewards of this land. We have marginalized, behaved in paternalistic, colonialistic ways that have lacked respect for Indigenous people as stewards of the land.”
This exchange between Trudeau and Tilly went on for some time. Trudeau responded by saying “we have much to apologize for and much to work forward on together in respect.”
He then went on to reference a meeting he had the day before with leaders of self-governing and modern treaty First Nations.
“We are working with them on full self-governance, we are working with them on being able to make their own determinations about their land, about how they care for their people, how they serve their people, how they move forward in responsible ways that are their choices,” Trudeau said.
“You are afraid to lose everything you benefit from our oppression and our suffering! You are afraid to lose your comfort,” interrupted Tilly.
“No I’m not Tilly,” replied the Prime Minister. “I’m ready to walk in partnership with you and building the future and that is what we’ve been doing over the past three years in renewing this relationship.”
Trudeau addressed more comments throughout the night relating to the wage gap between men and women and a comment about his India trip, to which Trudeau replied, “it was a trip that happened,” followed by laughs from both the crowd and the PM himself.
An individual from the international student community raised a question about the high cost of post-secondary education for international students. The Prime Minister chalked it up to say that “quality education is expensive” and the price international students pay for education in Canada covers the cost they don’t pay in taxes, which is fair to Canadian citizens.
U.S. President Donald Trump was even referenced in another question from an audience member, who asked Trudeau if he would push Trump off a cliff, adding that he would buy the PM a beer if he did. This naturally brought some laughs.
“I wasn’t expecting a threat of violence against our closest ally,” Trudeau replied. “The relationship between Canada and the United States goes far deeper than who happens to be prime minister and who happens to be president.”
Before the night was over, additional discussion of protests and RCMP action at the Unist’ot’en camp in northern B.C. against the Wet’suwet’en people was voiced quite loudly with and without provided microphones.
As Trudeau exited the TRU Old Gym, someone could be heard yelling “don’t forget about Canada Post!” through the mob of selfies before the Prime Minister retired to his hotel.