(Bloomberg) -- A protest at a United Nations summit in Montreal gave Justin Trudeau an opportunity to laud Canada’s approach to freedom of expression, reinforcing a message he delivered to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a confrontation between the two leaders last month.

About three minutes into the Canadian prime minister’s prepared remarks at the opening ceremony of the COP15 biodiversity summit, a dozen indigenous protesters stood up in the hall, singing and brandishing a yellow sheet that read: “Indigenous genocide = ecocide. To save biodiversity, stop invading our lands.”

Trudeau stopped speaking and waited as the protest continued for more than two minutes until the group left, still singing. “As you can also see, Canada is a place of free expression where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly, and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspective,” he then said.

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Trudeau used similar language during an encounter with Xi last month on the sidelines of the Group of 20 leaders’ meeting in Indonesia. Xi accused Trudeau of leaking details of a private meeting to the media. Trudeau responded: “In Canada, we believe in free and open and frank dialogue, and that is what we will continue to have.” The exchange was caught on camera. 

Canada’s relations with China have become strained in recent years. Last week, the country launched a new Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at countering China’s growing influence and building closer relationships with democratic allies in Asia. 

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China holds the presidency of COP15 but Covid-19 lockdowns required the event to move to Canada. 

Trudeau has also been criticized by some in Canada for using emergency legislation giving the government special powers to end protests in Ottawa and other sites in February. The protesters, who were angry about Covid-19 restrictions, had occupied the downtown core of the capital city for weeks and blocked roads near key border posts.  

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