A crowd of nearly 3,000 erupted at the Liberal Party convention in Halifax on April 21 when Justin Trudeau invoked his unending political battle with a Prime Minister now three years in Canada’s past. The Liberal leader lashed out at “Stephen Harper’s party,” assailing the absent straw man, and declared that Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer represents “the same politics of fear and division.”
Smoke and mirrors. Misdirection, not sunny ways. The promoter of fear and division in 2018 is not a long-vanquished rival, but the current tenant in the Office of the Prime Minister.
When, in the 1960s, Canadian society assumed cultural drift occasioned by cutting loose from the historic anchor found in the Scriptures, our current Prime Minister’s father, Pierre, presented himself as the prophet of “a just society” to be built upon a replacement for the sacred text. In April 1982 the elder Trudeau enshrined his fundamental secular text, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in Canada’s constitution. As I said in my 2017 book Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017):
Canadians, whether they have read it or not, increasingly place their faith in the Charter. To do so is to also place one’s hope in the institution that interprets it, the Supreme Court of Canada, just as the priests of old used to interpret the Bible for the people, because the Sacred Book was not available in the common language of the day.
The Charter’s purpose is the constitutional protection of citizens from bad behaviour by government.
Last December, the younger Trudeau announced that the longstanding federal program to provide funding for high school and university students’ summer jobs would require employer applicants to attest agreement with a government statement on “reproductive rights,” and “other rights” not defined. He used a reference to the Charter in an effort to bind citizens to the opinion of government, rather than acknowledge its intent to safeguard Canadians’ thoughts, beliefs and opinions from government intrusion.
The claimed objective of the attestation clause was to prevent funding of organizations that advocate against government policy.
Justin Trudeau is not a young man. At forty-six, neither is he old. As a politician, he is neither naïve nor a neophyte. Raised by a father who spent 15 years as Prime Minister, he was an MP for seven years before his party won the election that yielded him a turn in the role of prime minister.
Asserting his path of governance as evidence-based, the evidence suggests our Prime Minister has little regard for his father’s or the courts’ acknowledgment of human rights as inherent and non-hierarchical. Justin Trudeau favours a hierarchy of rights, based on his personal preference and definition. This requires a measure and a mix of cognitive dissonance and moral disengagement, and denial of written decisions from the Charter’s secular high priests, the Supreme Court of Canada.
A self-declared feminist, Trudeau assigned women’s rights top spot in his hierarchy. In response to a media question about why he prioritized gender balance in Canada’s cabinet, he stated simply, “Because it’s 2015.” Quantity over quality was the chosen measure for his leadership group. Image was emphasized over performance, like another intentional photobomb moment captured by his personal photographer.
An initial act of Trudeau’s leadership was to declare as unfit for his Liberal Party those whose personal or religious convictions put them offside with his opinion of what constitutes women’s rights. It is an opinion that selectively disregards the intersection of women’s rights with rights to religious freedom.
Early acts of his prime ministership were similarly directed.
Trudeau shuttered Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom despite a post-election internal evaluation that recognized the significant contribution of the Office to international relations, diplomacy, trade, security and human rights, including women’s rights. He declared Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy for foreign aid, tied to women’s “sexual and reproductive health rights.”
Following the assertion of mandatory agreement with Trudeau’s position on reproductive rights as a requirement to gain access to summer jobs grants, a diversity of faith communities petitioned Canada’s government. Even though the activities of their charities involve no advocacy on that point, many could not, in good conscience, mark an “x” in the box to support a statement that violates their belief that human life begins with pregnancy.
Prime Minister Trudeau and his Minister of Employment, Patty Hajdu, made it clear that government grants would not be available to any organization perceived as challenging government policy. Religious leaders, now joined by Indigenous and other conscientious objectors, were told to mark the box, agree to the attestation, or be denied.
Last week, the government released the list of employers approved for 2018 Canada Summer Jobs funding. Spotlighted from the coast-to-coast-to-coast approvals was endorsement for application from the Dogwood Initiative. Dogwood’s summer hiring goal is to prevent twinning of the only oil and gas pipeline with access to Canada’s West Coast. The Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to B.C. has been in place since 1953. The twinning project was approved by the Trudeau government in November 2016, following a 29 month review process.
The Prime Minister will not tolerate even a hint of potential opposition from religious charities with long histories of meeting the needs of Canada’s disadvantaged, and with no history or intent of advocacy on abortion. Yet his government approved funding for an organization that advocates stopping a federal project of economic significance to the nation. In addition to authorization by Minister Hajdu’s office, the Dogwood grant got final approval from the Liberal MP for Burnaby North–Seymour in B.C.
Questioned in Parliament, the Prime Minister conjured smoke and mirrors language about support for free speech, while denying religious charities the protections of freedom of religion, belief and opinion stipulated in the Charter.
The Charter protects all Canadians from government deciding what we must believe. The role of the State, whether court or government, has been defined by the Supreme Court as not to be the arbiter or dictator of citizens’ beliefs. Government’s responsibility is to treat all Canadians equally, and to be neutral to citizens’ differences in religious or conscientious beliefs.
Canada’s Supreme Court has also determined there is no constitutional separation between Church and State, as exists in the United States’ Constitution. Instead, Canadians have a long history of cooperation between the two: the State neutrally regards the faithful as equal to other citizens.
Equal treatment. If advocacy is out, it’s out for all. What’s not in is discrimination by government.
The Prime Minister’s doublespeak on human rights and core mandates extends into cognitive dissonance about advocacy that opposes government policy.
The Supreme Court has also determined that the reproductive rights on which Trudeau demands agreement do not exist. Constant repetition of the words “reproductive rights” may be a technique for re-education. It does not change the constitution. Abortion is legal in Canada by the absence of law from Parliament constraining it. Holding differing opinions on whether a child is a child when in the womb violates neither law nor constitution. Demanding agreement with the Prime Minister’s position on the issue does.
Trudeau’s intentional disregard of history, and his inventiveness in regard to human rights, has forced faith-based charities that found themselves constrained by belief from marking an “x” to face a difficult decision: they could sue to protect Charter rights or serve with what they have.
Those religious charities have become pawns in the Prime Minister’s gambit on summer jobs grants. Many of them are fearful about its effect on the people they serve: men and women struggling with addictions and homelessness; women in need of summer childcare so they can continue working at survival level jobs while their children are out of school during July and August; young women who had summer job offers dependent on longstanding and previously stable federal funding relationships.
Mr. Trudeau’s politics of fear and division, smoke and mirrors, Church and state, should not fool us or be permitted to manipulate us.
Canada’s Constitution guarantees our rights and freedoms. The courts have secured them. The government is required to abide by them.
In his April 21 convention speech, the Prime Minister also shared these words:
Positive politics means you fight for your ideas. You don’t demonize your opponents… We will fight for Canadians, all Canadians. We will fight for their future, and for their hopes and dreams. We will fight for their right to have a government that respects them, that listens to them, that sticks up for them, and that cares about them.
It’s up to us, Canadians, to hold Justin Trudeau accountable for the image those words evoke and the performance necessary for them to have meaning.
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