PM Justin Trudeau says he ‘maybe’ could have spoken some English when asked questions
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with students the Tim Horton’s coffee shop in the Student Union Building at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec on Wednesday January 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz.
SHERBROOKE, Que. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Wednesday he “maybe could have answered partly in English” when asked questions in that language at a town hall meeting in Quebec.
The language brouhaha erupted when Trudeau answered English questions in French on Tuesday night.
At first, the fluently bilingual prime minister defended his stance when asked about it at a news conference on Wednesday as he continued his grassroots tour.
Trudeau pointed to the fact he answered a French question in English at a recent town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont.
But Trudeau changed his tune a few minutes later when a reporter revisited the topic.
Asked whether the English-speaking people in the audience Tuesday night did not deserve to understand him, he replied: “I understand how important it is in these public meetings to be able to answer questions about people’s concerns.”
“So, yes, I maybe could have answered partly in English and partly in French and, on reflection, it would have been a good thing to do,” he said.
“I understood that the meeting would be in French. From now on, I will make sure to have more bilingualism, regardless of where I am in the country.”
A woman who asked Trudeau a question in English on Tuesday about mental health said she “felt disrespected.”
“I was so disappointed that by the time he got through that bit of fantasy land (explaining why he was speaking in French), I really didn’t take in the rest,” Judy Ross said in an interview. “I was too miffed.
“It (mental health) is a topic that’s very difficult to explain and express in your own language, let alone a second language. Even people who are bilingual prefer to have their services in their mother tongue. And I thought, with his life experience, he would be sensitive to that.”
Meanwhile, the president of an association representing anglophones in the province’s Eastern Townships region said Trudeau should apologize to the English-speaking community.
Gerald Cutting said the prime minister’s refusal to use both languages undermined the anglophone community’s long struggle to obtain access to services in their own language.
“There were people in that audience who felt they were demoted to second-class citizens, and that needs to be addressed,” he said in an interview.
Cutting said Trudeau’s response Wednesday morning was insufficient and Trudeau should meet with members of the anglophone community to further clarify his remarks.
Earlier in the day, the prime minister held a private meeting with Jean-Guy Cloutier, mayor of Lac-Megantic, the Quebec town rocked by a huge train explosion that killed 47 people in July 2013.
He also met with students in a cafe at Bishop’s University, where he signed autographs, posed for several selfies and went behind the counter to have a photo taken with employees.
Before leaving, he signed a note for a student explaining why he was absent from class.
Trudeau then headed to a fast-food restaurant in Granby where he was greeted by people wanting photos and autographs. A woman even asked him to sign a book that contained a recipe from his mother, Margaret Sinclair.
The Canadian Press
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