KAMLOOPS — Hundreds of people convened in the TRU gymanisum to voice their concerns, opinions and questions to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
During a town hall forum in Kamloops, topics ranging from Trudeau's favourite part of being prime minister, to issues of immigration in Canada were discussed.
The most heated debates came from First Nations supporters who pressed Trudeau on the Trans Mountain pipeline and rights to their land.
"I want to ask you what are you going to do to stop oppressing and holding our people under your colonization? When are you going to give us our rights back?", one woman named Tilly asked from the audience.
"Canada has a long and terrible history in regards to Indigenous peoples," Trudeau said. "We have consistently failed as a country to live up to the original spirit and intent of the treaties. We have not treated Indigenous peoples as partners and stewards of this land."
"We have much to apologize for and much to work forward on together in respect."
Trudeau continued to say he had a sit down in Ottawa on Jan. 8 with leaders of "self-governing and modern treaty First Nations," and said the government is working with them on self-government among other issues.
Several members of the audience questioned Trudeau on the arrest of 14 people at an Indigenous blockade near Houston, BC. Members of the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation had set up a camp to control access to a pipeline project across their territory.
The arrests sparked outrage across the country, and Trudeau told the town hall audience the blockade had been taken down as of Wednesday afternoon.
Turning to the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Shuswap Nation member Arnie Jack told Trudeau the federal government has no deed for Shuswap territory, and said there's been no consent from the people to put a pipeline through their territory.
"You do not have that consent. You can stand up all of the elected chiefs that you want and say that you have consent, but you do not have consent from the people on the ground," Jack said. "You said yourself that these major projects would not be approved without community consent."
Jack argued consent cannot come from elected chief and council, but instead through the community members themselves, and listed several dates over the years when First Nations have been treated as lower-class citizens.
"The list goes back decades," Trudeau said, "and generations, and indeed centuries."
He added that Canadians need to respect differing opinions and work together toward solutions.
One man asked the prime minister about immigration in the country, particularly in connection to 13-year-old Marissa Shen's murder in July of 2017.
"Last year police charged, with murder, a 28-year-old man named Ibrahim Ali — a Syrian refugee who had come to Canada three months before Marissa Shen was killed," the man said. "In an interview you did with Maclean's the interviewer said 'A lot of people say that if it hadn't been for the surge in Syrian refugees after the 2015 election, this guy would not be here.' To which you replied 'I'm not one of those people who says that.' My question is can you guarantee that Marissa Shen was not killed by a Syrian refugee who came to Canada after you were elected, and if not, what in your opinion is the acceptable number of Canadian lives lost as a result of your policies on refugees?"
The question was met by both cheers and 'boos', but Trudeau focused on the "danger" of tying in things like immigration policies to incidents like Shen's murder.
"It's something that I don't know is entirely helpful or useful in a diverse, pluralistic, inclusive society like ours."
Some audience members also asked Trudeau about certain claims made by US President Donald Trump, but Trudeau said his focus is on keeping a strong relationship with our neighbours to the south.
Before leaving Kamloops tomorrow, the prime minister will be making appearances at TRU and the Kamloops Centre for Seniors Information.
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