Justin Trudeau non-committal about plans to visit Israel in April or beyond; says police must both obey and enforce the laws when dealing with protests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a pre-budget announcement in Scarborough, Ont., April 1, 2024. (Credit: Lila Sarick)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is one of the few political leaders of Western governments who has not visited Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, declined to say if he has definite plans to visit the country.

“I’ve been to Israel a number of times and I look forward to going again,” he said at a press conference on April 1 in Toronto.  

“We’re watching events unfold and I look forward to going back,” he said in response to a question about whether he intends to visit.

Numerous heads of government, including U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as well as the leaders of France, Italy and Germany visited Israel in the first few weeks after the Hamas attacks, when over 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 240 people were taken as hostages into Gaza.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly visited Israel in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Oct. 13, as military aircraft arrived to help stranded Canadians leave the country.

Joly and cabinet minister Ya’ara Saks most recently made an official visit to Israel in mid-March, where they met with Jewish and Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.  

Trudeau also addressed the ongoing pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Toronto, after a weekend when police charged three people, including one woman who allegedly threw horse manure at officers and another used a flagpole to “spear at an officer.”

Protesters said at a news conference on April 1 that Toronto police used excessive force and have called for an independent inquiry.

Trudeau reiterated that protest is a fundamental right, but stated that it needs to be “done peacefully in a way that doesn’t endanger other people’s lives.”

“We expect police to both obey the laws and enforce the laws and that’s something that I think is necessary. Just waving the Palestinian flag is not in itself something that is unacceptable or antisemitic. People are allowed to express their concerns… It’s when you start making people feel unsafe in their neighbourhoods in their schools, in their communities that we fall into things where police do need to lean in and make sure that everyone is safe and feels safe.

“That is a balance that is ongoing every single day by police forces across the country. As a federal government, we expect people to obey the law. We expect the police to obey the law but we also expect the police to enforce the law.”

Trudeau was speaking at a Boys and Girls Club in Scarborough Ont. where he  announced the launch of a national school food program. The program, which will cost $1 billion over five years, will feed an additional 400,000 children, beyond those already in existing school meal programs. The announcement was made in advance of the federal budget, which will be introduced in the House on April 16.