WATCH: Justin Trudeau debates angry Bill C-51 protesters
**UPDATE**: Global News reached out to Paula Kirman, the independent photojournalist who shot the above exchange. Her comments have been added to the story.
TORONTO – Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took some fire last month when his party voted in favour of the Conservative government’s controversial anti-terror legislation.
Now, video has emerged of Trudeau confronting that criticism head-on.
Amateur video uploaded to YouTube by independent photojournalist Paula E. Kirman shows the Liberal Leader debating a group of Bill C-51 protesters outside the Maharaja Banquet Hall in southeast Edmonton.
Trudeau was in town for Edmonton City Councillor Amarjeet Sohi’s official announcement that he will be seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding of Edmonton Mill Woods – Beaumont in the upcoming federal election.
And while the announcement – with an introduction from Trudeau – reportedly drew quite a crowd, it also drew a group of protesters chanting slogans such as “Kill the Bill!’ and “Liberal, Tory, same old story!”.
In an interview with Global News, Kirman said she pegged the crowd at between 100 and 150 demonstrators at it’s peak. She says that while things got “a bit heated” at one point, it remained a peaceful demonstration.
“It remained peaceful. Nothing bad happened,” Kirman said. “It was certainly one of the more interesting protests that I’ve ever filmed.”
At first Sohi approached the group, followed by Randy Boissonnault, the Liberal candidate for Edmonton Centre, to discuss the demonstrators issues with the anti-terror legislation.
Then Trudeau himself spoke with some of the protesters, which caught Kirman a bit off guard.
“Suddenly I hear behind me the chanting get even louder,” Kirman said. “So I turn around, and there’s Justin Trudeau!”
Quickly moving to reposition her camera, Kirman captures an impromptu, off-the-cuff exchange between the Liberal leader and the C-51 demonstrators.
“Why did you not vote against [Bill C-51]?” protester Peggy Morton asks.
“Because there are elements in that bill that keep Canadians safe, in a concrete and serious way,” Trudeau replied. “And we need to make sure we’re balancing rights and freedoms with the protections of Canadians.”
“There’s no such thing as balancing rights and freedoms,” the protester said.
“Of course there is,” Trudeau answered. “Balancing rights and freedoms is what the nature of society is.”
“Liberals in the past have gotten that balance right.”
Trudeau said, as he has before, that he only agrees with part of the bill and would seek to repeal other aspects if he’s elected in October.
“Even Mr. Mulcair hasn’t promised [to repeal the bill],” Trudeau said at one point during the exchange.
During an appearance on Global’s The West Block with Tom Clark in February, the NDP leader would not commit to repealing Bill C-51, even as he stated his party was “very concerned” with the bill.
Then in March, Mulcair said his party would repeal “every offending provision” of the bill if elected in October.
Trudeau also underscored his commitment to protect the right to protest and demonstrate freely, even joining protesters in chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” at one point.
A key concern of Bill C-51’s critics, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May, is that the legislation could be used to suppress peaceful protests.
“Why did you follow the lead of the [Conservatives]?” another protester asked Trudeau. “Because that’s what it looks like to Canadians who voted Liberal.”
“People are tearing up their [Liberal party] membership cards,” another protester added.
Kirman said that while Trudeau at times “wasn’t very well received,” she was impressed with the overall civility of the exchange.
“Of course, there was an element of him being shouted down,” Kirman said. “But I think it stayed as polite as it could have been.”
A ten-year veteran of independent, activist journalism, Kirman said she’d never seen a political figure with Trudeau’s profile actually debate his detractors.
“Justin Trudeau is actually the only [party] leader I’ve seen who actually came out to talk,” she said.
“Certainly I respect that, and I think others did as well.”
After passing third reading in the House of Commons by a margin of 183 to 96 – with the added support of the Liberal party – Bill C-51 is headed to the Senate, where it is expected to pass as well.
The Tories have positioned the bill, tabled in January, as a response to the daylight murders of two Canadian soldiers in Ottawa last year.
The legislation would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more power to thwart suspected terrorist plots, and would let government institutions share any Canadian’s personal information they consider to be useful to intelligence authorities.
Critics contend the bill is too vague in its language, does not provide necessary oversight, and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Along with his proposal to create $3 billion in tax breaks for Canada’s middle class, Trudeau’s support of Bill C-51 has shaped the conversation around the Liberal leader’s platform as Canadians prepare for a federal election later this year.
Voters head to the polls across Canada on October 19.
Meanwhile, you can check out more of Kirman’s work at the Radical Citizen Media blog, or check out her community access TV show “From the Ground Up,” which airs on Shaw TV in Edmonton.
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