Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke nearly four full days of silence on the “Freedom Convoy” protest that has overtaken downtown Ottawa when on Monday he made a last-minute decision to attend a House of Commons debate on the standoff.
Emerging from COVID-19 isolation to appear in person on Parliament Hill, Trudeau said the demonstrations must stop, and that while people have a right to protest, they do not have a right to “blockade” others from living their lives. On Monday the protest entered its 11th day.
Trudeau called for unity across partisan lines, applauding the Conservatives who have also now called for the protests to end, despite previously supporting them.
Restrictions won’t be forever, Trudeau said, but Canadian values must be.
“We have to make sure that our shared values and the idea of Canadians being there for each other supporting one another, respecting each other that has to be here to stay,” he said.
His comments came as local authorities called earlier in the day for more federal help to end the anti-vaccine protests, and while Liberal cabinet ministers were dispatched to answer those calls, questions had been swirling about why Trudeau was silent.
“When will the prime minister stop hiding, show up for Canadians, show some leadership and fix the mess that he has created?” said Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen during a raucous question period earlier Monday.
Her questions were echoed not just by other federal party leaders, but even by some longtime Liberal strategists and others who wondered why Trudeau wasn’t out in public.
Trudeau’s previous public appearance was Thursday, a media availability with the premier of Manitoba, followed by some closed events.
On Friday, he did a virtual meet with students at a school in Newfoundland and Labrador, and then according to his schedule, he was in private meetings all day Saturday, though in his capacity as party leader, addressed the Liberals’ Ontario convention Saturday night .
He took a personal day Sunday, and his schedule had him in private meetings again Monday.
Longtime Trudeau confidante and cabinet minister Marc Miller appeared to sum up the answer to reporters on Monday when he was asked why Trudeau wasn’t publicly dealing with the issue.
“Everyone obviously does look for the prime minister’s leadership, but right now we’re going to let law enforcement to do its job,” he said.
All levels of government have stressed politicians cannot direct law enforcement but federal cabinet ministers said Monday what their government can do in terms of providing support to law enforcement, they will.
And Trudeau was in the loop, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc said.
“The prime minister has been actively engaged every day in briefings and in updates from senior officials in the national security and intelligence community in terms of what’s happening across the country, in Ottawa and across the country,” Leblanc said Monday.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak and work with him in meetings right through this past weekend and the prime minister has been very, very much involved.”
The emergency debate Monday night had been prompted by a call from the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh. The Conservatives’ Bergen has also asked for Trudeau to sit down with other party leaders to chart a path forward.
Trudeau’s official itinerary is published each day, a practice in place since he became prime minister.
It’s been a controversial document in the past — in September, his itinerary put him in Ottawa in private meetings but he was en route to a family vacation in BC
When the protesters began arriving in Ottawa in late January, there was a subtle change to the daily document.
Where it would previously clearly list his geographic location, it now says “national capital region,” a change that came as CBC reported a decision was taken to move his family for security reasons away from their normal residence of Rideau Cottage.
At the same time, Trudeau was in isolation after one of his children tested positive for COVID-19. And then he tested positive, forcing him to work virtually even as the drama and tension in Ottawa escalated.
His diagnosis was mocked by some COVID-19 deniers, and he’s been accused of fleeing the country and going into hiding, a claim that is untrue.
With files from Alex Ballingall
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