“I don’t want to see your crocodile tears!”
That was one of a number of comments with which Indigenous protesters confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C. on Tuesday night.
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The town hall came in the same week that 14 people were arrested in the province’s northwest as they protested the construction of a natural gas pipeline by Coastal GasLink that’s a key piece of infrastructure for the LNG Canada project.
The arrests came Monday, on the same day that Mounties enforced a B.C. Supreme Court injunction requiring that any obstructions to the project be removed near a bridge on a forest service road that runs south of Houston.
Further developments came Wednesday, as hereditary chiefs with the Wet’suwet’en people said they would open a checkpoint gate they had erected at what’s known as the Unist’ot’en Camp, a longstanding structure aimed at preventing the pipeline’s construction.
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Trudeau largely seemed to address a friendly audience — questions included, “What’s your favourite part of your day?” — before frustrations over pipelines, and the federal government’s approach to climate change and First Nations, started to boil over.
First to assail Trudeau was Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
“You lied about being a climate leader. You don’t build pipelines by being a climate leader,” George said.
“You want truth and reconciliation with First Nations and you get our people arrested.”
Trudeau, who was answering a question about oil and gas emissions, asked George to “please respect” an audience member’s ability to ask a question. But George continued.
“You’re a liar and a weak leader. What do you tell your children? Pipelines do not make climate leaders,” he said.
“I apologize to you, I’m not going to listen to your lies anymore, you’re a weak leader and a liar and you’re not welcome here.”
Trudeau later faced a question from a woman named Tilly, who identified herself as a member of the Stl’atl’imx Nation.
“What are you going to do to stop oppressing and holding our people under your colonization,” she asked.
“When are you going to give us our rights back, when are you going to start giving a s*** about who we are as people, and not just seeing us for our land?”
Trudeau responded that Canada has a “long and failed history in regards to Indigenous people,” saying it has “consistently failed as a country to live up to the spirit and intent of the treaties.”
“We have not treated Indigenous peoples as partners and stewards of this land.”
Trudeau said the federal government is focusing mainly on two areas when it comes to Indigenous peoples: services and relationships.
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He started talking about how “too many Indigenous communities are existing under boil water advisories” when Tilly interjected.
“You are afraid to lose your comfort,” she said.
“No I’m not, Tilly,” Trudeau responded.
“I am ready to work in partnership with you and that is what we have been doing with you over the last three years.”
The pair continued to exchange words, with Tilly saying, “I don’t want to see your crocodile tears, I don’t want to see you apologize.”
She said she wanted “amends,” that she demanded it “on behalf of my people.”
Another protester yelled out, “be a man! Be a man!”
Trudeau then said, “we need to be respectful of everyone who came out tonight to engage in this conversation.”
He went on to say that no one checked with Indigenous people when Canada’s railroads were laid down.
“Nobody checked with the people who had lived here for millennia, whether or not we could throw a railroad down in a given place,” Trudeau said.
“That is not how we will continue to do things.”
- With files from The Canadian Press