Hate speech and the politics of division are creating a “dangerous path” for Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday, as he vowed to steer clear of such roads and to continue calling out those who rely on “extremist” methods to make their voices heard.
Trudeau made the comments when asked whether he went too far in accusing a Quebec woman of racism and intolerance as she heckled him during a rally last week.
During a campaign-style rally Thursday southeast of Montreal, the woman shouted questions in French at Trudeau, asking him when the federal government would repay Quebec for costs it has incurred as a result of an influx of “illegal immigrants” coming over the Canada-U.S. border.
The Quebec government has demanded Ottawa pay the full costs of social services provided to so-called irregular migrants who have crossed into Canada between established border crossings over the past couple of years — costs the province says have reached $146 million so far.
Watch as the prime minister responds to recent heckling and says he will always call out intolerance:
The woman appeared to be accompanied by at least two men, one of whom was filming her. The other appeared to be Mario Dallaire, leader of the separatist anti-immigration group Front Patriotique du Québec. The same woman appears to be in photos of an FPQ rally held the next day.
The prime minister responded to the woman by accusing her of intolerance and racism and saying her sentiments were not welcome.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer weighed in on Twitter Monday evening, accusing Trudeau of resorting to personal attacks because he did not like being questioned about the issue.
“By sweeping away legitimate questions on his failed border policy with vile personal insults, it is Trudeau himself who is guilty of polarizing the debate. No one has done more to divide Canadians than he has.”
At a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a new Amazon distribution warehouse east of Ottawa, Trudeau said he fears a rise in extreme populism, particularly surrounding immigration issues, with some feeding fear and intolerance using partial truths and “outright lies.”
“There has been a polarization in our political discourse,” Trudeau said as construction machinery clattered in the background.
“And there are people who are trying to feed fears and intolerance for a broad range of reasons.… I will remain positive and remain pulling people together, pulling communities together right across this country.”
The cost of irregular migrants
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister responsible for immigration, was on hand Monday for Trudeau’s news conference. She said it’s the prime minister who is creating divisions by shouting “racism” at those who question his government’s immigration policies.
“I think when the prime minister, when confronted with some of the problems his government has created, turns around and fearmongers and calls people un-Canadian or racist, [he] really debases the debate that we’re having.”
Ontario’s new Conservative government has also called on the federal government to foot the bill for services provided to asylum seekers, which that province has tallied at $200 million and climbing.
The federal government has so far offered a total of $50 million to Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to offset expenses incurred as a result of a spike in asylum seekers entering the country by way of unofficial entry points along the Canada-U.S. border.
Of that sum, Quebec — where the bulk of the crossings have taken place — would receive $36 million.
The issue of irregular border crossings could become a wedge issue in the campaign leading up to the next federal election, scheduled for the fall of 2019.
At an event Sunday marking Trudeau’s formal nomination to run for re-election in the Montreal riding of Papineau, Trudeau emphasized the fight against extremist populism as a plank in his party’s 2019 platform, and accused Scheer of exploiting fear and division.
With files from CBC News