It had the atmosphere of a stand-up comic—a man, a microphone, a stool to sit on, a water pitcher and glass, surrounded by 2,000 people in a college gym. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared at Brock University in St. Catharines for a town hall meeting Tuesday evening.
It wasn't the kind of town meeting where there are written questions from the audience for a politican to answer. Instead, Trudeau pointed at someone in the surrounding crowd and staffers rushed to that person with a microphone.
Some questions were difficult: Canadian relations with Indigenous Peoples, Israel and Palestinians; where the country is going with an election coming in October; and sex abuse cases. Trudeau said sexual abuse isn't a women's rights issue, but a human rights issue.
"Every institution, organization, from religious organizations to political organizations to the Catholic Church, need to make sure that they are being accountable and changing not just the way they deal with these challenges, but the way they proactively take responsibility for them and engage with the kind of transformations we need," he said.
Trudeau said he volunteered in college at a program for abused women and didn't know how bad the problem was until then.
Other questions were easier, like trying to raise kids as the son of the prime minister. Trudeau said he had some experience at that, as the son of one-time Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Inevitably, the prime minister was asked about legalizing marijuana, which is lurching into operation.
"It's not about a new source of revenue for the government. It may end up happening, but that's not what its all about," Trudeau said. "It's about a failure of public policy. The prohibition we have had on cannabis in Canada over the past many, many decades did not work."
To make his point, he asked his audience how many had gone to high school knowing who in the building had marijuana for immediate sale. Hundreds of hands went up. The prime minister said something was wrong when it was easier for students to buy pot in their school than get a bottle of beer.
The strongest position he took was to blast Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro for running a dictatorship that is taking the country and its people to "terrible oppression."
He said everyone in the room lives in a complicated world.
"Where sometimes packaging really simple easy-sounding solutions can be very compelling," Trudeau said, "and that's why making sure that we continue to have space for real conversations, making sure that as citizens we demand plans and visions and answers and accountability from leaders, from politicians, about how they are going to solve these challenges."
This was the latest of this year's town halls across Canada, something he has done before in January.