Canadian PM Trudeau defends decision to attend protest amid Covid-19 curbs
Amid criticism from opposition leaders, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has defended his presence at a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest despite warning Canadians to avoid large gatherings and supporting restrictions on mass events across the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Opposition leaders accused Trudeau of ‘hypocrisy’.
Trudeau took a knee at that event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in memory of African-American George Floyd, who died late last month after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck while he lay handcuffed on the ground, sparking off both peaceful protests and violent rioting in the United States.
Opposition leader Andrew Scheer addressed the matter in Parliament on Monday and said he understood why some people were “upset and confused” at seeing Trudeau “completely ignore those types of health guidelines or recommendations.” Canada’s chief public health officer Dr Theresa Tam had warned against public protests and recommended virtual protests instead.
Scheer also tweeted, “Trudeau: you cannot attend funerals, visit dying relatives, or attend church services Also Trudeau: it’s ok for me to attend mass public gatherings Do you think that’s fair?”
He was backed by the leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet who described Trudeau’s presence at the protest as an avoidable publicity stunt, according to the outlet CBC News. It quoted him as saying, “That is not the best place for the prime minister, or for me, to be. We have other occasions, opportunities to speak but it is quite characteristic of this Prime Minister — working with symbols, symbolic gestures.”
CBC also reported that around 4,000 people attended the rally and “few of them practised physical distancing” while some of the protestors did not wear masks, though Trudeau did. It also noted that Trudeau shook hands with some of the protestors “something public health officials have warned against.”
Trudeau defended his action at his daily media briefing on the coronavirus crisis, saying the “right balance” was required between the right to protest and public health measures. He said he went to the rally to “show support and listen to what community leaders and Black Canadians are calling for.”
Ottawa is in the province of Ontario, which along with Quebec, accounts for the vast majority of infections and fatalities in the country. Social gatherings in Ontario are capped at five persons, though that limit will be doubled on June 12. Over 7,800 deaths have been reported in total and more than 96000 persons infected so far.