What happened in London should be a pivotal point for Canada – and its politicians
In a 2015 speech, reflecting on Canada’s treatment of minorities, Justin Trudeau said that the inclusive idea of freedom that characterizes the best of Canada “demands that Canadian political leadership be sustained. “
Six years later, the murder of four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario is a watershed moment for Canadians, but also for that country’s political leaders.
While it is necessary for Canadians to think about themselves and their country, it is also necessary for politicians to reflect on what they could have done better in the past and what more they could do in the past. ‘to come up.
Beyond formulating an idea of ”Canadian freedom,” Trudeau used this speech six years ago to condemn the attempt by the Conservative government of the day to prohibit new Canadians from wearing the niqab while lending the oath of citizenship. And after examining that policy and the conservative rhetoric that surrounds it, Trudeau invoked some of the most shameful events in Canadian history.
Much of the response to these remarks focused on Trudeau’s choice of comparisons. Jason Kenney, the author of the niqab ban, said the Liberal leader had posted “a grotesque lack of judgment. “
What has changed since 2015?
Six years later, it might be harder to imagine a dominant party proposing such a ban and easier to imagine observers agreeing with such historical comparisons. This could count as a small measure of progress.
But the 2015 election – in which Stephen Harper also suggested he would consider extending the niqab ban to the civil service – were not the last word on anti-Muslim prejudice in Canada.
In 2017, there was Motion 103. Tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, he called on the House of Commons to condemn Islamophobia and support a study on how the federal government could better fight racism and discrimination. It did not happen quietly or easily. Eighty-six Conservative MPs – including current party leader Erin O’Toole – voted against.
WATCH: Conservative leader Erin O’Toole addresses the vigil in London
Maybe that also counts as a small measure of progress. But even if O’Toole seemed to be turning a leaf this week, should politicians ever be allowed to walk so quietly?
Does he regret his vote on M-103? What does he think now of what the previous Conservative government – which it served as cabinet minister – said and did about the niqab? What about the discourse of this same government on “barbaric cultural practices”?
The current moment seems ripe for the Conservative leader to reflect publicly on these choices. But O’Toole isn’t the only federal leader facing questions right now.
Crossing the Closure of Bill 21
Trudeau placed himself in front of other leaders on the niqab issue when he gave this speech in 2015. Unfortunately, then one could think that he had taken a political risk in criticizing so loud and clear the Harper government’s ban. . The New Democrats ended up blaming their losses in that year’s election in part on the fact that Tom Mulcair was ultimately forced to condemn the policy.
While Trudeau is now ahead of his federal counterparts on the issue of Quebec’s Bill 21, which would ban provincial officials from wearing headgear or religious symbols, he is not far ahead.
O’Toole referred to Quebec when asked about the so-called “secularism” law last September – something else he could be questioned about now. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the bill, but did not say a government led by him would intervene.
Trudeau has criticized the bill, but is still the only one among federal leaders to say the federal government may one day have to participate in a legal challenge against him.
It wasn’t much, but Trudeau seemed to back down this week. When asked by a journalist if he thought Bill 21 “encourages hatred and… discrimination”, the Prime Minister replied “No”.
This answer calls for an explanation, not least because Trudeau himself used the word “discrimination“speaking of Bill 21.
It is possible to imagine unselfish arguments against the federal government officially intervene in Bill 21 at this point.
There are politicians in Quebec who, without a doubt, would like to have the chance to make a fight with Ottawa. If Bill 21 were to fall, it might be better for this defeat to be clearly motivated by Quebeckers.
As a lawyer said, the precise role of the federal government in combating provincial laws is questionable (although if the bill is ultimately upheld due to Quebec’s use of the notwithstanding clause, Trudeau may need to give serious thought to raising the challenge of constitutional reform).
Refusing to commit won’t let Trudeau get away with it
But refusing to engage legally does not prevent a prime minister – or any other federal leader – from speaking clearly and forcefully about problems with provincial legislation. On the contrary, refusing to intervene only increases the already considerable responsibility of a Prime Minister to fight by other means against hatred and systemic racism.
The Trudeau government has things to say for itself in this regard. He wrote a anti-racist strategy and spend $ 45 million on it. He emphasized the diversification of federal appointments.
The government promises to introduce legislation soon to crack down on the online distribution of hateful content – although an election in the fall would at least delay the implementation of such a bill. As far as words matter, Trudeau probably deserves some credit for his rhetorical leadership over the past few days and years.
But after London, the questions worth asking are what more needs to be done – and why it can’t happen soon. Tragedy should never be a precondition for action, but it can be an incentive to redouble our efforts. It creates moments that can be seized to drive progress forward.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims has called the prime minister convene a national summit on Islamophobia bringing together representatives from all levels of government. The NCCM says such a meeting would be “a start”.
It can be difficult to find a good reason not to call such a gathering, even if it has to take place virtually.
“Canada is as it is because Canadians built it to be that way,” Trudeau said during the speech in 2015.
As Canadians consider the reality of their country, this statement may seem to have a double meaning, both positive and negative.
But the case for deliberate effort and political leadership remains as strong today as it was then.