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Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez makes his way to a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Mar. 13, 2020, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has a keen interest in Netflix and Amazon Prime. Not only is he in charge of a bill regulating streaming services, which is grinding its way through Parliament, the minister is an enthusiastic film buff.

Yet when his daughter recommended that he watch the Oscar-nominated film Argentina, 1985, which has just popped up on Amazon Prime, he hesitated.

The film chronicles the trial of Lieutenant-General Jorge Videla, and other key figures in a military junta that in 1976 seized power in Argentina, launching a reign of terror, notorious for kidnappings, torture, rape and disappearances.

And the minister remembers living “some of it personally.”

Mr. Rodriguez’s family fled Argentina to Canada as refugees when he was almost eight years old. His father was a lawyer defending political prisoners and in 1973 ran for governor in Argentina’s Northern Tucuman province.

“My dad was running for governor and he was imprisoned regularly and beaten and tortured, and, yeah, they bombed our house,” he said.

Mr. Rodriguez and his family narrowly escaped with their lives, after the bombs planted by a paramilitary above and below his father’s room in the middle of the night failed to demolish the house.

“They were timed when one would explode before the other. But it didn’t work the way they wanted,” he recalls. “We were all injured. I flew like 20 metres, and hit the wall.”

The minister’s life may have been saved by being awaken by noises in the night.

“I was the only one awake … and that’s why I flew to the wall because I was walking when the bomb exploded,” he said.

His mother, sister and father were more seriously hurt, and his father has lost his hearing because of the volume of the blast. Mr. Rodriquez says he too is losing some of his hearing.

“We were all very injured and we knew that it was a question of time before they killed us. And that’s how we came here to Canada,” he said.

Argentina, 1985, which was chosen last week as one of five nominees for best foreign film, portrays how a small team of lawyers, led by Julio Strassera, helped secure Mr. Videla’s conviction. The trial heard harrowing testimony of torture, rape and murder.

His father travelled back to Argentina to testify himself, and Mr. Rodriguez remembers friends of the family who were persecuted or disappeared, recounting how women had their babies snatched from them, to be forcibly adopted, and were killed after giving birth. He says the terror began years before the military officially took control.

“We went to hell – the bomb in the house. We barely survived,” he said. “[My dad] was tortured. We lost so many people around us that were killed – some of them just put to sleep then thrown from a plane.”

In 1974, the Rodriguez family fled for their lives to Canada and his father, a prominent Argentine citizen who later became a university professor, had to do menial jobs to survive when they first got here.

“We all arrived here and of course we lost everything, so I was helping him clean houses,” he said.

The family settled in Quebec, where Mr. Rodriguez attended school, learned French and English and went on to Sherbrooke University. Before being elected in 2004 as Liberal MP for the Quebec riding of Honoré-Mercier, he did humanitarian work, including as vice-president of Oxfam-Québec.

Speaking by phone during the Liberal Party’s recent caucus retreat – where the cost of living was a key theme – Mr. Rodriguez says he can relate to the struggles people today face to make ends meet.

“I can feel it. Trust me. I know how people live,” he said.

However, after the misery of the pandemic, he believes, watching Canada compete in the World Cup in December gave the country something to rally round and cheer for.

Mr. Rodriguez is now rooting for the Canadian women’s soccer team – gold medalists in Tokyo in 2020 – and is confident “they will go very far” at this year’s women’s World Cup.

The minister, whose department has the overarching responsibility for sport, sees no contradiction in cheering for Canada and Argentina, which beat France on penalties in a nail-biting men’s World Cup final.

When Lionel Messi held the trophy above his head in Qatar in December, Mr. Rodriguez was ecstatic. He watched the game on TV with his daughter and was on his feet the entire time.

“I didn’t sit for a second,” he said.

It was not the first time that the Heritage Minister had seen Argentina’s biggest stars in action. In Barcelona, he once saw Mr. Messi score at Camp Nou. In 1994, he flew with his father to the U.S. to watch Diego Maradona, that other Argentine soccer legend, score his last goal for his country at the World Cup against Greece.

Mr. Rodriguez says soccer, including as a player, is “a big part of my life.”

At Sherbrooke University, his enthusiasm for scoring goals landed him in hospital more than once. He broke his right leg twice, as well as his left foot, after being aggressively tackled by defenders.

Despite his injuries, he contends soccer holds “lessons” for life. The “beauty of the game” is not just about the technique of its players but the “message it conveys.”

“You learn that sometimes you have to forget about yourself and think about others,” he said. “You learn that you win or lose as a team.”

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