In court documents, Trudeau defends decision to call out Quebec heckler for ‘racism’

Interesting case. PM comments come across as reasonable and thoughtful:

In the wake of Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal, his comments in a recent lawsuit give an illuminating insight into how the prime minister thinks about racism.

In August 2018, Trudeau made headlines when he called out a woman for “intolerance” and “racism” after she heckled him at a rally in Quebec and asked him about “illegal immigrants.”

That incident led to an ongoing lawsuit that has received little public attention since it was filed by the heckler last December. In July, Trudeau was questioned in Montreal as part of the lawsuit.

In the court documents, obtained by the National Post this week, Trudeau said he believed the intolerance had to be addressed clearly and also pointed to a particular brand of Quebec nationalism he found troubling.

In videos that circulated widely of the altercation — during a speech Trudeau gave to Liberal supporters at an event in Sabrevois, Que. — the prime minister can be seen telling the heckler that “this intolerance regarding immigrants does not have a place in Canada,” and later that “your racism has no place here.”

At the time, commentators and Conservative politicians were quick to accuse the prime minister of berating an elderly woman without justification, a narrative that changed somewhat after it was revealed that the woman, Diane Blain, had connections to far-right nationalist groups.

In December, Blain filed a defamation lawsuit against Trudeau, demanding $90,000 for psychological distress and damage to her reputation and her right to freedom of expression.

Trudeau’s defence argues that it was “perfectly legitimate” for the prime minister to “note the intolerance expressed by the terms used by Ms. Blain.”

During his examination, Trudeau told Blain’s lawyer the context of her comments made it clear she was intolerant. But he also said he doesn’t believe Blain was a racist, despite having accused her multiple times of racism.

At the event, Blain called out multiple times from the crowd, asking, “When will you give us back the $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants?” Her question was in reference to the Quebec government’s demand at the time to be reimbursed for costs incurred by the influx of asylum seekers entering Quebec at Roxham Road, between official entry points.

In examination, Trudeau said he didn’t initially understand Blain’s question, but realized what she was asking when he heard the words “your illegal immigrants.” He told Blain’s lawyer that the way she asked the question, referring to “your illegal immigrants,” proved it was not in good faith. “It was a context in which the goal was to disrupt and push an agenda that was either anti-immigrant or that simply wanted to spark fear and concern about immigrants,” he said. “So for me, it was important to respond firmly and clearly.”

He also said he felt it was necessary to speak out swiftly because the crowd was very diverse and many of his supporters at the event were immigrants.

He went on to discuss Quebecers’ concerns about asylum seekers at Roxham Road, saying there are “very reasonable people” who worry about illegal border crossings. “But there’s a point where it goes beyond concern and (becomes) a desire to preserve a historic Quebec identity against immigrants,” he said. “And unfortunately, it’s not something we hear often, but it’s common enough to be part of a pattern.”

At the August event, Blain asked Trudeau if he was tolerant of “Québécois de souche,” a term that refers to white Quebecers who are descendants of the original French colonists. He responded by saying he was tolerant of all perspectives and accused Blain of being intolerant. Later, when she confronted him again as he was moving through the crowd, he told her, “Your racism has no place here.”

Blain’s lawyer, Christian Lajoie, asked Trudeau during the examination about Quebec nationalism, after Trudeau said he didn’t like the term “Québécois de souche” because of its “connotations of intolerance.”

Trudeau referred to René Lévesque, the founder of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, saying the former premier envisioned a “civic nationalism,” not one based on ethnicity. “I think a little bit for some people in recent years, we’ve been missing that desire to bring people together that Mr. Lévesque had,” he said.

Still, asked directly if he believes Blain is a racist, Trudeau said no. “I was speaking about her comments… that I associated with intolerance,” he said. “There’s a wave of thinking that has racist elements.”

In the days after the altercation, Trudeau stood by his response to Blain’s questions, telling reporters that “Canadians deserve to know that they have a prime minister that will always underline when these dangerous tactics are used in politics.” At the same time, media reports revealed that Blain had connections to far-right nationalist groups Storm Alliance and Front Patriotique du Québec and that she had once refused to be served by a Muslim woman at a dental clinic in Montreal.

In her lawsuit, Blain claims the event and subsequent media coverage caused “serious damage to her dignity, honour and reputation,” and that her family has been divided by the incident. She is asking for $90,000 in damages. She initially wanted an additional $5,000 for the pain caused by an RCMP officer grabbing her arm, but that has since been dropped. Blain did not respond to the Post’s request for an interview, and her lawyer declined to comment.

Trudeau’s defence claims that Blain came looking to confront him and his responses to her questions were reasonable under the circumstances. It points out that Blain identified herself as the woman in the videos after the fact, and has given several interviews about the incident. A spokesperson for Trudeau declined to comment.

During his examination, Trudeau indicated he believed his lawyer had approached Blain to try and reach a settlement. Blain recently told right-wing news site The Post Millennial, which has reported on the examination, that no settlement has been reached. According to court documents, preparation of the file will not proceed until November, after the Oct. 21 election.

Source: In court documents, Trudeau defends decision to call out Quebec heckler for ‘racism’

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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