The only thing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could say in his defence might be, “The attack on your rights in Canada didn't start with me.”
Trudeau was elected on campaign slogan of, “Real Change Now”. He took full advantage of a real desire among people to make big changes after a decade of Stephen Harper's Conservative rule. He was the one who chose add the immediacy of “Now” to his promise. So now more than two years later there's no excuse for the fact that our rights in Canada not only haven't improved, in many ways they've gotten worse.
Trudeau managed to surf on the wave of discontent and popular mobilization against Harper's “Anti-Terrorism” Bill C-51. The massive law gave monumental new powers to government and police forces to spy on and detain people with little accountability and even less explanation for how this would make anyone “safer”. It was the defining moment of that election – when people really felt like they couldn't stand another four years of a Conservative government.
Despite voting in favour of Bill C-51, Trudeau promised he would prioritize “fixing” it once elected. That even this confusing and hypocritical position was enough to push him ahead in the election goes to show the high level of discontentment and desire for change. Trudeau's Liberals were elected with a majority government – so he had a strong mandate to shake things up and the ability to do it.
Two years later and nobody is holding their breath. On Bill C-51, indigenous, LGBTQ2+ and refugee rights we've see a familiar pattern of big talk, and at the very best a “Diet Coke” version of the same anti-human Harper policies. Below is a brief summary of some of the most blatant examples. It is seemed appropriate to interchange them with italic quotes from Prime Minister Trudeau's election victory speech on October 20, 2015.
Bill C-51 and Bill C-59: Two Sides of the Same Coin
“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways. This is what positive politics can do...Canadians from all across this great country sent a clear message tonight. It’s time for a change in this country, my friends, a real change.”
The real change on the “Anti-Terrorism” law front never amounted to much. As we've long documented in Fire This Time, Bill C-59 has some new oversight mechanisms over national security institutions and some of Bill C-51's most flagrant language, which was going to be overturned in court regardless, has been removed. However, on balance, Bill C-59 still leaves our democratic and human rights in a worse position than when we began protesting Bill C-51 in the first place. The expansion of spying, personal information sharing and detention are all still there. Also, they've added some incredible new cyber-spying provisions which even Harper didn't dare attempt. So where is this real change?
Indigenous Rights... When it's Convenient
“You want a Prime Minister that knows that a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples that respects rights and honours treaties must be the basis for how we work to close the gap and walk forward together.”
Trudeau continues to speak, and to weep, often lamenting the government's terrible relationship with Indigenous people. He also pledged to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The most fundamental aspect of the Declaration being the requirement of “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous Nations before decisions are made which effect their traditional territories.
The Discourse, APTN and HuffPost Canada created a database of the 140 First Nation bands and Indigenous groups along the proposed route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. The Trudeau government decided to buy the project for $4.5 billion when the Kinder Morgan corporation became frustrated with delays due to opposition. The database documents that only 41 have signed agreements to build the pipeline. 14 First Nation bands or Indigenous groups are involved in legal challenges against the pipeline, and 85 have not signed any agreements.
That's a long way from consent and a “renewed nation-to-nation relationship” with Indigenous Nations.
Bill C-51 and C-59 have been seen as opening up the possibilities for government crackdowns on Indigenous Nations organizing to defend their traditional territories. “It is legislation like this that makes it difficult for people to not be scared into silence, and for people like me who believe that we need a just transition to renewable energy and engage in peaceful protests that may be seen as criminal in the eyes of the Canadian government. But this history is not new for us as Indigenous peoples here in Canada. It is the continuation of neo colonialism seen now in the form of resource extraction, environmental and cultural genocide,” said Melina Loubacan-Massimo a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation whose territory has been polluted by Tar Sands expansion.
Turning its Bank on the Environment
“Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet. The rest of us have a lot to learn. And no time to waste...Canada is back, my friends. Canada is back, and here to help.”
Trudeau said this a month after his election at the Paris Climate Summit. All he actually did was keep Harper's targets to reduce greenhouse emissions linked to global warming by 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels, and by 30 percent by 2030.
However, recently, Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand said in a report that Canada will not meet its emissions targets, which are expected to be nearly 20 percent above the target for 2020. She also added that "meeting Canada's 2030 target will require substantial effort and actions beyond those currently planned or in place." By approving the Trans Mountain and Line 3 Tar Sands Pipelines, Trudeau knowingly made these targets impossible to meet.
Trudeau also decided to leave 99% of waterways unprotected in Canada. This broke a promise to restore protections lost when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was eliminated by the Harper government. Only 1 per cent of the 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers in Canada will now be protected.
LGTBQI - Sex Education
“You want a government with a vision and an agenda for this country that is positive and ambitious and hopeful. Well, my friends, I promise you tonight that I will lead that government. I will make that vision a reality. I will be that Prime Minister.”
Trudeau has been particularly silent on the new Ontario provincial government's decision to scrap the current sex education curriculum and revert instead to one that is 20 years old. This old curriculum does not address topics of consent, cybersafety or gender identity. The newer 2015 curriculum had angered conservatives because it mentions same-sex marriage, gender equality and masturbation.
This decision obviously had nothing to do with wanting “more consultation” from parents, as Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said. It has everything to do with appeasing a right-wing viewpoint which refuses to acknowledge the rights of LGBTQ2+ community and their human rights.
Where is Trudeau's leadership on this one? He's happy to take photos at Pride Parades, but when it comes down to confronting a real attack on their rights of vulnerable LGBTQ2+ people he's silent?
“To her I say this: you and your fellow citizens have chosen a new government, a government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country. We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world who worship every faith, who belong to every culture, who speak every language.”
A full article by Alison Bodine in last issue Fire This Time summarizes the worldwide refugee crisis, but some key findings regarding Canada include:
“During the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau made the promise that the government of Canada would sponsor '25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015.' This promise was made at a time when thousands of refugees were drowning in the Mediterranean Sea fleeing imperialist wars and occupations in the Middle East and North Africa. The government of Canada failed to meet this target, while at the same time they also utterly failed at welcoming the refugees as they also promised.”
“Last year, when U.S. President Trump first instated the outrageous Muslim Ban Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau was boasting #WelcometoCanada on Twitter. Hypocritically at the same time as this tweet, the government of Canada was decreasing the number of government-assisted refugees it would accept in 2017.”
“Another gross example of the criminality of the government of Canada’s immigration policy is the 'Safe Third Country Agreement' currently in place between the governments of the U.S. and Canada. According to this agreement, a person making a refugee claim must do so in the first country that they arrive in - whether that be the United States or Canada. Therefore, if a refugee enters through the U.S./ Mexico border, but then travels to Canada before making their claim for asylum, they will be returned to the United States and told to make their claim there.”
“Ending the Safe Third Country Agreement is especially important now that the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session has announced that asylum will no longer be given to those migrants fleeing domestic and gang violence. “
Also, given the current scandal of over 2300 children separated from their parents and detained by US immigration officials, applying the word “safe” to the United States when it comes to refugee claimants is more than a stretch.
Do as I Say Not as I Do
“My friends, we beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together. Most of all, we defeated the idea that Canadians should be satisfied with less, that good enough is good enough and that better just isn’t possible.”
Anybody really feeling like Trudeau has beaten fear with hope in Canada? The one thing that has defined his government so far has been its total mediocrity when it comes to standing up for their rights of poor, working and oppressed people, and total reliance upon presenting itself as “at least better than Harper.” This is not accidental, and this is not because they don't have the political power to do better. Trudeau has shown time and time again that he priorities the “rights” of big business interests and corporations over the rights of people. If we want to defend and extend our rights we need to organize a movement which understands that real power comes when people are mobilize in the defence of their interests, and which understands that the more we connect our struggles to more powerful we will all be.
Repeal Bill C-51! Scrap Bill C-59!
Our Security Lies in Defending the Rights of All!
Follow Thomas on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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