QUEBEC CITY, Que. – Canada must do a better job of welcoming newcomers and never forget that diversity is the country’s strength, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd at his latest town-hall event in Quebec City on Thursday.
Trudeau fielded a number of questions on immigration and the need to fight intolerance during his stop in the city, which is preparing to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 29, 2017 deadly mosque shooting where six men were killed.
The evening began with a question on how to better integrate immigrants into Canadian society and ended with Trudeau delivering an impassioned speech on the need to fight racism after a woman expressed concern over recent public demonstrations by far-right groups.
“There is much more we need to do as citizens to create neighbourhoods, a society, a political debate that is more respectful, less anchored in ignorance and insecurity and intolerance,” he told the several hundred people in a high school gymnasium.
“We all have our role to play.”
Trudeau, holding a microphone and with his shirt sleeves rolled up, encouraged Canadians to remember and protect its history as a welcoming society.
“And that is done by remembering that this country we built didn’t happen by accident and it won’t continue without effort,” he said in the nearly 10-minute long speech, which was met by applause.
The town-hall event began with a young man who said he was from Venezuela, who said his mother had yet to find work after two years in Canada and asked why so many immigrant professionals had jobs such as cleaning floors.
A few questions later, a woman from Brazil made a similar comment, who implored Canadian citizens to “be a little more open, to accept a little more, because we’re not just here to be janitors,” she said.
Trudeau responded by saying work was being done to better recognize professional degrees but he acknowledged the need for better language training and integration measures.
The evening was briefly interrupted by a heckler who unfurled an upside-down Canadian flag with a swastika scrawled across it.
Trudeau calmly responded “thank you for coming Sir,” as the man yelled in his direction as he was escorted from the room.
After a later speaker expressed concern about the disturbance, Trudeau told the crowd that his team would question the man “to see if there’s an issue we can help him with.”
Trudeau was also questioned on a number of other topics including electoral reform, troubles with the Phoenix pay system, and the possibility of reopening the constitution.
On the latter, Trudeau emphasized that he has no appetite for the “interminable” discussions that would accompany any potential constitutional talks.
“The political energy involved, the interminable conversations and the constitutional debates that would take all the political oxygen of our system for years, in my view, would be better spent elsewhere,” he said in response to a question about abolishing the Senate.
The evening event was the latest in a series of town hall-style public meetings the prime minister is holding across the country.
Trudeau has already attended question-and-answer sessions in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and he is expected to make two more stops in Western Canada.