Canadians are going through “tough times,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday — but “angry” protests, he added, should remain peaceful despite those difficulties.
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He made the comment after footage emerged on social media of the prime minister being swarmed by a small but vocal group of demonstrators in Hamilton, Ont., on Tuesday night, where the Liberal cabinet retreat is taking place.
Security guards and police pushed away the demonstrators as they hurled insults at Trudeau, calling him a “tyrant,” demanding his resignation, and shouting profanities.
The cause they were protesting was not made immediately clear in the footage.
“It’s really, really important in our democracy that people can express their disagreement or displeasure or even anger with various governments. That’s really important,” Trudeau said when asked about the incident on Wednesday morning.
“At the same time, our police services and institutions will ensure that those protests remain peaceful and law-abiding. That’s something that really matters.”
Canada will “always ensure” people are “free to express” their perspectives, Trudeau added.
“A handful of angry people do not define what Hamilton is or what democracy is,” he said.
Harassment and threats against public figures have become a growing problem across Canada.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino warned over the summer that the growing frequency of harassment against Canadian public figures poses a “threat to democracy” that needs to be taken seriously.
In late August, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was cornered outside an elevator in Grande Prairie, Alta., as a man hurled profanities at her while voicing his opposition to COVID-19 health measures.
In June, Mendicino revealed that Canadian members of Parliament will be getting panic buttons amid a rise in death threats, intimidation and verbal harassment.
When asked whether the increased threats and anger at protests have led Trudeau to step back from open public appearances, the prime minister said that is not the case.
“On the contrary, I’m continuing to be out there to meet with Canadians, to talk with them about their concerns. And I will continue to do that,” he said.
“Staying connected, particularly after the tough years of the pandemic, where we all had to change the way we were doing things, remains really important.”
Canadians, Trudeau said, “are facing tough times right now.”
The country has been grappling with the soaring cost-of-living as an economic downtown has caused skyrocketing inflation rates. Grocery prices have also soared, and multiple industries have been hit by layoffs.
In a year-end interview with Global News last month, Trudeau had warned Canadians that 2023 will be a difficult year as economic challenges brew.
“Global recession fears, slowing down in the global economy, interest rates continuing to be high, inflation still lingering — it’s going to be tough,” he said.
Randy Boissonault, associate minister of finance, had also said on Tuesday at the cabinet retreat that the year ahead is looking “turbulent.
That came the day after a joint report from the Business Council of Canada and Bennett Jones warned that the fiscal forecast laid out in the last federal budget and the fall economic statement was likely too rosy.
The report, written by former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge and former Liberal finance policy adviser Robert Asselin, said the government’s forecast was based on a “plausible but optimistic” set of economic and interest-rate assumptions that are unlikely to come true.
They warn that there is a “high likelihood of a more severe recession” this year, and that the Liberal promises on everything from health-care funding and enhanced national defence spending to infrastructure improvements and climate change are going to cost a lot more than was projected.
“There’s lots of uncertainty,” Boissonnault said.
Despite these difficulties, Trudeau said, “most Canadians roll up their sleeves and say, ‘You know what? This is tough, but we’re going to be there for each other.’”
“We’re going to see each other through this, and we’re going to build a better future.”
Trudeau is wrapping up his three-day cabinet retreat ahead of Parliament’s return. The retreat, his office said, had a focus on the cost of living and the economy.
— with files from The Canadian Press