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Reception for Trudeau, Italian PM cancelled after pro-Palestinian demonstrators blocked entrances

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TORONTO -

A reception meant to cap off a day of meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Italian counterpart was abruptly cancelled on Saturday after protesters blocked entrances to the venue and kept key figures, including the guests of honour, from getting in.

Trudeau's office confirmed neither he nor Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were able to enter the Art Gallery of Ontario, which briefly went into lockdown as demonstrators shouting pro-Palestinian slogans packed the area where would-be guests were awaiting admission.

They included International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, who was unable to enter the gallery through the front entrance and walked two blocks while flanked by police to find an alternative.

The disruption marked a tumultuous ending to an otherwise cordial day of meetings in Toronto, during which Trudeau and Miloni said they agreed to establish the Canada-Italy Roadmap for Enhanced Cooperation.

The two prime ministers issued a joint statement saying their agreement will further deepen their countries' political, economic and strategic ties by setting out plans to collaborate over the next three to five years in priority areas.

Those include energy security and the shift to a sustainable energy future, climate change and biodiversity, migration, sustainable economic growth, and research and innovation, including artificial intelligence.

The two G-7 members plan to review progress on the development of the roadmap at a meeting this June in Italy.

Speaking in front of reporters before heading behind closed doors on Saturday morning, Trudeau commended Meloni's leadership as Italy presides over this year's G7 summit, adding he is looking forward to working with her to set up Canada's term as host in 2025.

Trudeau said Canada and Italy are “aligned on so many things” and have a “very deep and growing economic relationship.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Prime Minister of Italy Giorgia Meloni in Toronto on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2024. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

The two got into a public spat last year after Trudeau criticized Italy's stance on LGBTQ2S+ issues in a meeting with Meloni at the G7 leaders' summit. He was reacting to her government's move to limit the recognition of parental rights to only the biological parent in families with same-sex parents.

Meloni later rejected the criticism and said Trudeau had fallen victim to fake news.

On Saturday, Meloni touted a number of her priorities leading the G7, including artificial intelligence, the role of the Indo-Pacific and respecting the international rule-based order.

She also highlighted support for Ukraine and “this very difficult Middle East crisis,” where she said it's important to avoid escalation.

“We are beginning a new year of our relationship trying to enhance our cooperation and I think there are many, many topics on which we can do that,” Meloni said.

Later, outside the venue for the cancelled reception, demonstrators chanted Trudeau was funding a genocide and criticized the federal government's handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Would-be attendees were confronted by demonstrators, with their paths to entry blocked, but some were later escorted to the building's entrance by police.

Security for the event also blocked some reporters from getting inside.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2024.

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