Juno Awards Get Political as Bill Clinton Honors Sarah McLachlan

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Bill Clinton

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also had a cameo role at the country's music awards to pay tribute to the late Leonard Cohen.

Canada's music awards got political Sunday night with Bill Clinton appearing via video to introduce a career retrospective for Canadian songstress and longtime friend Sarah McLachlan at this year's Juno Awards in Ottawa.

The former U.S. president said McLachlan's music and career had been a "gift to the world and a gift to me." The singer-songwriter, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during the ceremony, told the Juno audience "we're living in scary times, and I know it's naive to suggest all we need is love" during a short speech that hailed diversity and politeness over division and hatred.

McLachlan said she was thankful to be born in a "country where the rights of girls and women are respected. ... We Canadians are far from perfect, but we have a lot to offer to the rest of the world." She added the world was capable of creating "great beauty and violence," and that "we need to remember to hold onto our light, our goodness, and strive to choose integrity and love over division and hatred."

On another political note, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire came onstage to introduce a tribute performance for the late Leonard Cohen by another Canadian songstress, Feist. "He spoke to our minds, bodies and spirits," Trudeau said of his fellow Montrealer, before adding Cohen had been a pallbearer at the funeral of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was also a prime minister of Canada.

Cohen scored the album of the year honor for You Want It Darker, a tribute that was accepted by his son, Adam Cohen. Other emotional highlights at the Junos included The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie winning for songwriter of the year.

Downie didn't attend the music awards as he is battling terminal cancer, but during a videotaped acceptance speech, he singled out Canada's First Nations communities for their long-standing hardship.

"We are not completely Canada yet. ... We have friends, fellow countrymen and women who are in trouble," Downie said in accepting the honor. He also earned three Juno trophies in pre-telecast prize-giving, including rock album of the year for The Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem.

The Tragically Hip also won for group of the year, beating out The Arkells, Billy Talent, Tegan and Sara and The Strumbellas. In other categories, Alessia Cara received pop album of the year honors for Know-It-All, Edmonton's Ruth B won the breakthrough artist crown and Jess Moskaluke took home the country album of the year award for Kiss Me Quiet.

"This is probably the coolest thing I've ever done ... I didn't even put shoes on," an excited Moskaluke declared after bounding onstage to accept her trophy. Elsewhere, the fans' choice, voted on by ordinary Canadians, went to Shawn Mendes, who beat out such fellow Canadian pop stars as Drake, Justin Bieber and The Weeknd.

Drake was overlooked in competitions for best single, album, artist, rap recording and producer of the year. During his opening monologue, Junos co-host Russell Peters caused a stir when he declared while surveying the audience, “Look at all the young girls — this is a felony waiting to happen.”

The opening included Trudeau in a taped comedy skit on his cellphone asking fellow co-host Bryan Adams to sing his iconic hit "Summer of '69" during the telecast.

In other pre-telecast prize-giving on Saturday night, Cohen was named artist of the year; the single of the year went to "Spirits" by The Strumbellas, which beat out singles by The Weeknd and Drake; and The Dirty Nil was named breakthrough group of the year.

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