A round table of people from China, Taiwan, Tibet and Korea — all of whom say they suffered at the hands of China's dictatorship — said they were insulted by Trudeau's remarks, made on Thursday at a women's event.
The Liberal leader was asked which nation he admired most. He responded: ""There's a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime."
That statement was upsetting for people who say they were wrongly imprisoned or tortured by the Chinese government for speaking out for democracy.
"Can I use the word 'foolish'"? said one member of the Federation for a Democratic China, characterizing Trudeau's words. The political group advocates for the democratization of China.
'A bit silly'
"It seems to be that he's not well-informed," another member of the round table said of Trudeau.
Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also reacted with surprise to the Liberal leader's words, calling it "a bit silly" to laud China rather than to praise democratic values.
At a press conference on Saturday in Quebec, Trudeau said his comment was a reflection on a growing economy.
Canadian members of the Federation for a Democratic China say that along with an apology from the Liberal leader, they also want an opportunity to meet face-to-face so he can listen to some of their personal stories of persecution at the hands of the Chinese government.