Canadian Martial Law: Trudeau Redux

Canadians who are old enough to remember when Justin Trudeau was born will recall that at the time his father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, explained to the fawning press that he had named his newborn son Justin because -- wait for it -- Justice. And throughout his life, JT has tried to live up to that name by always making it about Just-him.

It is said that the apple does not fall far from the tree. How true is this about Trudeau pere et fils? In answer to this question, we need only recall one of Pierre Trudeau’s most famous remarks to the effect that, outside of the House of Commons, the Canadian Members of Parliament – the individuals who just happen to represent the people of Canada -- are just a bunch of nobodies.  In other words, it was Just-him. What was he thinking, that he was a king, or a tyrant—we’ll never know.

By now most people have forgotten what Pierre Trudeau was really like. There are other similarities between father and son; Pierre was and Justin is a dandy. Pierre once did a famous photo-op wearing a buckskin jacket while paddling a canoe to give the impression that he was some sort of backwoodsman and, in parliament, he often sported a red rose in his lapel.

Pierre Trudeau in 1980 (photo credit: Chiloa CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

Evidently, he was pretty good at the type of image management that would make all too many female voters swoon—they called it “Trudeaumania” and, if we bear in mind that mania is a form of psychosis, then perhaps that label is apt.

Justin, too, even more than his father before him, but not always with unqualified success, is also famous for digging into the dress-up bin, sporting blackface, showing off his cool socks, and dressing up in ostentatious Indian garb on a visit to India and thereby scandalizing his hosts who were even more scandalized by the fact that part of his entourage included a known Sikh terrorist. However, as good as Pierre was at image management from time to time the mask would slip as it did in the early 70s when he gave his swinger wife Margaret a black eye after she returned from three days of partying in New York at Club 54. By the way, she later claimed that it showed that he loved her.

However, the black eye Pierre Trudeau gave his wife, as disgusting and lamentable as that surely was, was nothing compared to the black eye he gave to his country around the same time when he invoked the War Measures Act to deal with a crisis in the province of Quebec. For decades there had been a separatist movement brewing in Quebec, Trudeau’s home province, which Trudeau himself had adamantly opposed. Whatever one may think of a separatist movement it had been a peaceful non-violent affair up until a radical faction of it arose called the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ).

I do not wish to make light of the activities of the FLQ. They were terrorists. They planted bombs in mailboxes and staged robberies to raise funds for their cause. In their manifesto, they stated that they wanted to liberate Quebec from colonialism and capitalism and create a socialist utopia in that province and they were willing to use violence to do so. But in no way did they represent the overall separatist movement in Quebec which, until the FLQ arrival on the scene, consisted characteristically of artists, academics, activists, intellectuals, and politicians, the usual crowd of café revolutionaries, who wanted to secede by peaceful means. But in October of 1970, the FLQ kidnapped two people, James Cross, a British trade representative in Quebec, and Pierre LaPorte, the labour minister in the Quebec government. This was a grave crime that appalled and horrified the vast majority of Canadians. It became known as Canada’s “October Crisis.”

The issue quite obviously was what was to be done about this. In the middle of the night of October 16, 1970, Pierre Trudeau invoked Canada’s War Measures Act. It was essentially a form of martial law. Without going into details this Act literally gave Trudeau totalitarian powers including the revocation of all of the civil liberties of any and all Canadians.

Trudeau quickly arrested 497 of these café revolutionaries and held them incommunicado, sometimes for months. It turned out that none of them were associated with or led the authorities to the two little FLQ cells who this manhunt proved were indeed a fringe group. In the end, the terrorists were discovered using ordinary police methods—this was, after all, the sort of thing the RCMP were established for anyway, just as the FBI, the RCMP’s sister agency in America, was tasked with dealing with the Weather Underground and their ilk in the States—but not until they had killed, by strangulation, Pierre Laporte. Using the remaining hostage as a bargaining chip they successfully negotiated with the government to charter a plane to take them to Cuba.

It is worth remembering that during all of the time that the War Measures Act was in force there was not a peep of protest from even one member of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party. Ironically the only pushback came from Tommy Douglas, the head of the NDP, Canada’s socialist party, who day after day in the House of Commons railed against Trudeau’s abrogation of the civil liberties of Canadians.

That was then but now, Jagmeet Singh, Tommy Douglas’s present-day successor as leader of the NDP, has done nothing if not try to outdo even Justin Trudeau in slandering, lying about, and threatening with retribution the peaceful truck protesters. It is interesting, as the journalist Glenn Greenwald has tirelessly pointed out for over a decade now, that the leftists who were traditionally champions of civil liberties are now squarely against them, who once vehemently opposed the police/surveillance state are now enthusiastically in favor of it

It’s rich that the ethically challenged Justin Trudeau has warned the truckers and their supporters that they were breaking the law and would be punished accordingly. Early on he asked the army to clear the convoy out but, at least for now, they have refused to do so. Of course, they were breaking the law, a law based on emergency powers that had particularly been promulgated to target, control and punish them. So too had Gandhi and his followers been breaking the law when they went to the sea to make salt. So too had the legendary freedom riders of the American civil rights movement broken the law when they refused to sit in the back of the bus and insisted on being served at lunch counters. That’s what civil disobedience is all about, breaking unjust Jim Crow-type laws, but breaking them in a non-violent, peaceful manner. As it turns out, recent polls show that the truckers have more support among Canadians than does Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

Meanwhile, oblivious to all this, Pierre’s son Justin continues to posture and to teach ordinary Canadians what is right and just. This Prime Minister has been wagging his finger warning the truckers and their supporters about consequences for civil disobedience, er, breaking the law. Not only will they be fined and perhaps hustled off to jail but their rigs might be confiscated by the State. Their rigs, the ones that they scrimped and saved and busted their a**es off in order to purchase, those rigs. But hey, despite all appearances, they’re really not working stiffs, they must be capitalists if they actually own what Marx liked to call the “means of production.” With all the divisiveness that Justin has already fomented, he is now trying to pit worker against worker.

The American journalist Matt Taibbi in writing about the truckers’ convoy has predicted that this is Justin Trudeau’s Ceausescu moment, not that he will be lined up against a wall and shot by a firing squad but that this is the end of his political career. Not so fast. If there is one thing that politicians value more than winning elections it is saving face after they have made mistakes, no matter how egregious those mistakes may be.

It is impossible to predict how, in the short run, this will all play out. Following in his father’s footsteps on Monday JT invoked the Emergency Measures Act which was passed in 1983 to replace the War Measures Act. The Emergency Measures Act is somewhat different in rather interesting ways. First, it requires caucus approval to be invoked. This might sound more democratic but, given the fact that a couple of backbenchers in the run-up to this have broken rank, this also gives the Party Whip an opportunity to bring them to heel. Secondly, it is also time-limited to seven days but, on the other hand, technically there is nothing to stop it from being invoked again and again. Thirdly, it is not universal, it can be invoked so as to exclude some of the provinces if they so wish.

Already, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have said they want out. On the other hand, Ontario, led by Conservative-in-name-only Premier Doug Ford wants in but he’s hedging his bets. Obviously, since Ontario contains both the city of Ottawa as well as the Windsor side of the Ambassador Bridge, this martial law type measure would not work if he had tried to opt out. On the other hand, when Ford announced his support, he indicated that vaccine passports would be lifted in March, but the mask mandates would remain.  (He comes up for re-election in June.)

Perhaps most important of all, when “sunny ways” Justin announced the measure his Deputy PM  Chrystia Freeland, in a not-so-veiled threat, mentioned what might be its most powerful provision, that the government, without a warrant, will now be able to freeze anyone’s bank account. For truckers and their supporters who might have been thinking to keep going and try to tough things out, already impoverished by the lockdown, they will be unable to dip into their savings in order to carry on. In other words, this is just another version of the government instigated GoFundMe confiscation of truckers’ donations.

In the long run, one can only hope that these rogue politicians and the people who elected and continue to support them will come to their senses and once again embrace the freedom that makes a functioning liberal democracy so attractive to the masses who want to live in them. This was a lesson that was belatedly learned by the FLQ terrorists. It is well worth noting that in the end every last one of them, every man and woman, that had bargained to be flown to Cuba in exchange for releasing James Cross, eventually crept back to Canada and turned themselves in and subsequently did jail time. Evidently, they decided that doing jail time in cold Canada—"the true north strong and free” -- was preferable to spending the rest of their lives in that warm socialist utopia called Cuba into the likeness of which they had once so ardently wished to transform the province of Quebec.

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