Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday his decision to attend an anti-black racism rally even amid ongoing restrictions on gatherings related to COVID-19 was a matter of balancing important competing interests.
Trudeau was among thousands of people who flooded the streets of Ottawa Friday as part of protests around the world demanding immediate action to dismantle systemic racism.
He said watching people from his office windows in downtown Ottawa, it was important for him to send a message he was listening to their concerns.
The gatherings flouted ongoing public health restrictions on mass gatherings designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Trudeau said he did his best to observe public health protocols, including wearing a mask and respecting physical distancing where possible.
Trudeau’s attendance came as many Canadians have spent months in relative isolation from friends and families, as well as their jobs, Opposition leader Andrew Scheer pointed out Monday.
“I recognize it is a difficult situation where we are tying to balance very important competing interests,” Trudeau said.
“But for me it was important that I be there to hear.”
Scheer said the prime minister undermined his own government’s health messages.
“After all the all the hardship that people have gone through, to see the prime minister completely ignore those types of health guidelines and recommendations, I can understand why people are confused as to what advice they should be following,” Scheer said.
Trudeau said finding a way to strike a balance between COVID-19 mitigation measures and allowing people freedom to express their concerns over current events is challenging.
“We have to get that balance right,” he said.
“I continue to exhort Canadians to do just that.”
The protest movement was ignited after George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, died while in police custody last month.
Video footage of a police officer kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes, even as he said he couldn’t breathe, has now circulated millions of times.
Since then, images and reports of Canadians, including Indigenous people, being subject to violence at the hands of police have also begun circulating.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020.