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Can Canadian Candidate Justin Trudeau Turn Selfies into Votes?

In a town hall with VICE Canada Monday night, Trudeau got a chance to speak directly to young Canadians. But can his charm win over voters skeptical about his position on a controversial surveillance bill?

by Manisha Krishnan
Oct 6 2015, 6:25pm

Photo by Anthony Tuccitto

VICE Canada is tracking the issues beyond the headlines in the lead-up to the federal election. Check out our up-to-date reporting and in-depth documentaries on everything from sex work to surveillance on Daily VICE.

Matt Currie showed up to VICE Meets Trudeau wearing his beefs with the Liberal leader on a button pinned to his shirt that read: "Stop Bill C-51."

"He said he's against it but he voted for it," said the 24-year-old Torontonian, who is an organizer with a group that bears the same name as the aforementioned slogan.

Currie was one of several attendees who expressed opposition to the anti-terror law, which give police forces and the feds more power to detain terrorism suspects. They didn't have to wait long for an answer. About ten minutes into Monday night's town hall in Toronto, an audience member asked the Trudeau if he views the bill as "complementary to Canadian values on human rights."

In a vague response, Trudeau said he shared the public's concerns and that there are a "number of things" he would change about the bill, including narrowing definitions and adding oversight.

"Canadians expect the government to do two things: protect our rights and defend our security," he said, criticizing the Harper government for falling short on the former front and the NDP on the latter. (This in spite of claims he didn't "want to play politics" with the issue.)

When pressed by VICE News reporter Justin Ling, who asked Trudeau how he'd reassure Canadians the law wouldn't trample on Charter rights when he'd admitted they do, Trudeau deflected:

"I haven't admitted that it does break the Charter rights, that's for the courts to decide."

For Currie, the explanation fell flat.

"He took a politically bland position that sounds really good, but when you really drill down to it, it's really insubstantial," he told me shortly after a one-on-one exchange following the town hall in which he confronted Trudeau about the legislation. "He should have a pretty good idea of exactly what he wants to change and I don't understand why, if he has a concrete plan to do that, why it can't be publicly discussed."

Throughout the evening, Trudeau was also questioned on student debt, marijuana legalization, clean water access on reserves, missing and murdered women, and transgender health policies.

"I feel like they covered most issues that were important to young people," said University of Toronto student Jenna Lemieux. Her friend, Clara Rutherford agreed but told me she was "shocked" by the absence of both the Liberals and the NDP on campus.

"I think it's very important for both parties, since a lot of their support base is students," she said, claiming that half of her friends don't know how to register to vote or are uncertain if they can vote due to limitations imposed by the Fair Elections Act.

Following the formal portion of the evening, Trudeau met with audience members to take more questions... and selfies. Lots and lots of selfies.

"I heard Justin Trudeau was here so I just came to get a photo with him" one woman relayed over her phone as she exited the venue.

Others were less wooed by Trudeau's charm.

"Nothing surprised me," said Max Walls, who described the experience as "basic."

"It was all answers you'd expect, regardless of which party was speaking"

Trudeau, for his part, seemed most impassioned at the end of the night, when he encouraged young people to cast a ballot irrespective of their political leanings.

"Stephen Harper doesn't want you to vote," he said, to applause, adding "I'd love for you to vote Liberal, but I don't even care as long as you vote."

Trudeau also held a massive rally in Brampton Sunday, where he criticized Harper's divisive policies in front of a crowd of thousands.

"The prime minister's job is to bring Canadians together, not to tear us apart."

The latest polls show the Liberals and the Conservatives battling for first place with the NDP falling behind. According to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted this week for Global News, 33 percent of decided voters would vote Conservative while 32 percent would vote Liberal and 26 percent NDP. A Nanos poll released October 5 show the Liberals with a wider lead (35.6 percent support) with the Conservatives at 31 percent and the NDP at 22.8 percent.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.