I must confess that I did not see this plot twist coming. This is akin to finding out that J. Jonah Jameson is actually Spiderman, no? Getting read out as a hypocrite by the New York Times’ editorial board has to sting for Justin Trudeau, whose previous support of road-blocking protests puts him at odds with consistency, to put it mildly:
Entertaining the use of force to disperse or contain legal protests is wrong. As Mr. Trudeau said in November 2020, in expressing his support of a yearlong protest by farmers in India that blocked major highways to New Delhi, “Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest.”
The government in India must be seething at Trudeau’s hypocrisy. New Delhi was none too happy at the time Trudeau made those remarks:
India has denounced Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “ill-informed” remarks regarding an ongoing farmers’ protest in India’s capital. …
Speaking on Monday to celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, Mr Trudeau mentioned the protests and called it a “concerning” situation.
“We’re all very worried about family and friends,” he said during the virtual celebration. “We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we’ve reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”
Oddly, as the NYT’s editors point out, Trudeau seems entirely uninterested in adopting those positions in regard to his fellow Canadians. Trudeau might not have ordered the military out to meet the truckers, but Trudeau’s sudden grasp of emergency powers to shut down peaceful protest is not just a clear case of hypocrisy, but also a warning sign for authoritarianism:
As the big rigs brought traffic to a crawl in the Canadian capital and began blaring their horns, Canadians who do not share their grievances began to call for an end to the protests. The Ottawa police chief called it a “siege,” the Ontario premier said it was an “occupation,” the Ottawa mayor declared a state of emergency, and on Monday, Mr. Trudeau angrily told Parliament that the protests have to stop. He stopped well short of authorizing the use of military force against them but went as far as to say the protesters are “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives.”
We disagree with the protesters’ cause, but they have a right to be noisy and even disruptive. Protests are a necessary form of expression in a democratic society, particularly for those whose opinions do not command broad popular support. Governments have a responsibility to prevent violence by protesters, but they must be willing to accept some degree of disruption by those seeking to be heard. The challenge for public officials — the same one faced by Minneapolis and other cities in 2020 during the protests after the murder of George Floyd — is to maintain a balance between public health and safety and a functioning society, with the right to free expression.
The comparison to Minneapolis after the George Floyd homicide is instructive. The city didn’t act quickly enough to contain violence and ended up watching the city burn for days. Minnesota governor Tim Walz finally ordered the National Guard deployed in sufficient numbers to take control of the streets, but not before large swaths of Lake Street and other parts of the city were torched, and not before hundreds of businesses were looted.
The truckers in Ottawa have done none of those actions. They have blocked roads and honked horns, but that’s been the limit of their disruption. And yet Trudeau acts as though these truckers — using the same tactics that Trudeau cheered 15 months ago from the cheap seats in Ottawa — are an almost military threat to order in Canada. Trudeau’s use of the previously-titled War Measures Act is unprecedented for use against political demonstrators, the Daily Mail points out:
The 1988 Emergencies Act allows the federal government to override the provinces and authorize special temporary measures to ensure security during national emergencies anywhere in the country.
The legislation, previously known as the War Measures Act, has been used only three times in Canadian history: during the two world wars and in 1970 by Trudeau’s father, the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, after militant Quebec separatists kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial Cabinet minister.
The use of these measures against peaceful protesters in a democracy is an utterly shameful act by Trudeau, worthy of much more stringent criticism than the NYT’s editorial, but this essay is at least a very good start. Canada’s Parliament should respond by demanding a confidence vote in Trudeau’s leadership to put the MPs on record immediately as to whether they support this tactic, or whether they support free speech and protest as Trudeau did in November 2020 when it was more politically convenient. This crisis is a make-or-break moment for the credibility of Canadian democracy and liberty, and Canadians deserve an answer to it from every one of their elected representatives.