The Trudeau Family’s Love/Hate Relationship with Canadians’ Rights and Freedoms



February 17, 2022

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate relationships. Usually, those relationships are between boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives. But this Valentine’s Day, Justin Trudeau celebrated a different relationship: his family’s historic love/hate relationship with the rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens.

Back in 1982, the crowning achievement of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s tenure as Prime Minister was the enshrining of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Canadian constitution. Apparently, Pierre Trudeau thought that the Canadian Bill of Rights, passed by one of his predecessors a couple of decades earlier, did not adequately protect the rights of Canadians.

And, judging by Pierre Trudeau’s own actions, he was right. He himself had trampled the rights and freedoms of Canadians underfoot when he enacted the War Measures Act in response to the FLQ crisis when a Quebecois separatist group (the Front de Libération du Québec) kidnapped two politicians (Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross). When asked how far he would go to address the FLQ crisis, he famously said, “Just watch me.”

And watch Canadians did. Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, the first and only time that it was invoked during peacetime. This War Measures Act enabled the federal government to arbitrarily censor virtually all means of communication, arrest and detain citizens, control the movements of naval vessels, dictate the transportation of persons or things, and appropriate private property.

Some at the time (and many more since) criticized Trudeau for his disproportionate use of force and his suspension of civil liberties. Tommy Douglas, the leader of the federal NDP at the time, remarked that “the government, I submit, is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.” One RCMP officer testifying about the affair likened the use of the War Measures Act to quell the FLQ crisis to using “an atomic bomb for a riot on St. Catherine Street.” Richard Gwyn, one of Trudeau’s biographers, opines that “Trudeau smeared irredeemably his reputation as a champion of civil liberties. No other prime minister has been so severely criticized for crushing civil liberties.”

Fast forward half a century. Justin Trudeau campaigns in his first election that he will “ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protests and advocacy.” By his third election, he’s running on a platform that mentions “rights” 69 times. Not quite the same as entrenching civil rights into the Canadian constitution, but still a respectable commitment to his father’s legacy.

And then on Monday, Justin Trudeau follows his father’s footsteps in a much less admirable way by invoking the Emergency Measures Act (an updated version of the War Measures Act). Just like his father, Justin Trudeau is the first to use this legislation in peacetime. Just like his father, Justin Trudeau is abrogating the rights of many to address the actions of a few. Just like his father, Justin Trudeau is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.

This week’s emergency declaration is arguably harder to justify. Back in 1970, Pierre Trudeau was responding to a quasi-terrorist group that had detonated hundreds of bombs, kidnapped two prominent politicians, and even executed one of their hostages. Even if Trudeau overreacted, demonstrable violence had broken out and a swift response was needed.

But in 2022, there is no violence to speak of. Canada Unity hasn’t detonated bombs around Ottawa. No one has been kidnapped. A mob hasn’t stampeded through Parliament. The vast majority of protestors around the country aren’t breaking the law or, if they are, they are breaking relatively minor laws like obstructing traffic or parking illegally. There may indeed be a good reason to remove the protestors for any “mildly” illegal activity that is going on but invoking the nuclear Emergency Measures Act is a grossly disproportionate response.

Justin Trudeau seems to have finally broken up with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bigger question now is: what’s his new crush?

Levi Minderhoud is the British Columbia Manager for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada.

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