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Justin Trudeau adresses French-language brouhaha

Maclean's logo Maclean's 2017-01-18 The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont. Friday January 13, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/CP) © Used with permission of / © Rogers Media Inc. 2017. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont. Friday January 13, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

SHERBROOKE, Que. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he should maybe have tried to answer 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 prime minister defended his stance when asked about it at a news conference on Wednesday as he continued his grassroots tour.

Trudeau said 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 night 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.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister held a private meeting with Lac-Megantic Mayor Jean-Guy Cloutier. The Quebec town was rocked by a huge train explosion in July 2013 that killed 47 people.

He also met students at Bishop’s University and is expected to head to a restaurant in Granby to chat with members of the public.

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