What happened in London should be a pivot point for Canada — and its politicians

When it comes to Islamophobia and its consequences, some party leaders have their own questions to answer

In a speech in 2015, reflecting on Canada’s treatment of minorities, Justin Trudeau said the inclusive idea of ​​freedom that reflects Canada’s best”Canada’s political leadership needs to be upheld

Six years later, the murder of four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario is a calculating moment for Canadians – but also for this country’s political leaders.

If it is necessary for Canadians to reflect on themselves and their country, it is equally important for politicians to consider what they could have done better in the past and what more they could do in the future.

Beyond formulating an idea of ​​”Canadian independence,” Trudeau used that speech six years earlier to denounce the then-conservative government’s attempt to ban new Canadians from wearing masks when taking their citizenship oaths. . And after reviewing that policy and the conservative rhetoric around it, Trudeau recounted some of the most embarrassing events in Canadian history.

“My friends, this is not Canada’s spirit of independence,” he said. “It’s the soul of Komagata Marus. of St. Louis. of ‘no one is too much.'”

Much of the response to those comments focused on Trudeau’s choice of comparisons. The author of the mask ban, Jason Kenney, said the liberal leader had displayed “a strange lack of judgment

How much has changed since 2015?

Six years later, it may be hard to imagine a mainstream party proposing such a ban and it may be easy to imagine observers agreeing with such historical comparisons. This can count as some small measure of progress.

But the 2015 election – during which Stephen Harper even suggested he consider banning the niqab for public service – was hardly the last word on anti-Muslim bias in Canada.

In 2017, there was Motion 103. Introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, it asked the House of Commons to condemn Islamophobia and support a study of how the federal government can better combat racism and discrimination. It did not pass quietly or easily. 86 Conservative lawmakers voted against it, including the party’s current leader, Erin O’Toole.

WATCH: Conservative leader Erin O’Toole addresses vigil in London

O’Toole’s first reaction to the attack in London this week described it as “one”.Islamophobic act of terrorismHe used the term “Islamophobia” His remarks to the House of Commons next day.

Maybe it also counts as some small scale of progress. But even if O’Toole appears to be turning a page this week, should politicians ever be allowed to proceed so quietly?

Does he regret his vote on the M-103? How does he feel now about what the previous Conservative government – of which he served as a cabinet minister – had said and done with regard to the niqab? What about talk of “barbaric cultural practices” of the same government?

The present moment would seem ripe for the Conservative leader to reflect publicly on those options. But O’Toole isn’t the only federal leader facing questions at the moment.

walk the fence on bill 21

Trudeau put himself ahead of other leaders on the issue of the mask when he delivered that speech in 2015. Unfortunately, it was possible that he took a political risk in criticizing the Harper government’s ban so loudly. The New Democrats ended up blaming their losses in that year’s election on the fact that Tom Mulcair was eventually forced to denounce the policy.

If Trudeau is ahead of his federal counterparts in Quebec’s Bill 21, which would ban government employees in the province from wearing religious headwear or emblems, he is not far off.

O’Toole deferred to Quebec when he was asked last September about the so-called “secular” law – another thing he may be asked now. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has criticized the bill, but declined to say that the government led by him would intervene.

Trudeau has criticized the bill, but is still alone among federal leaders to say the federal government may someday need to participate in a legal challenge against it.

It wasn’t much — but then Trudeau seemed to back down this week. Asked by a reporter whether he thinks Bill 21 “promotes hatred and … discrimination,” the prime minister replied, “No.”

That answer demands clarification – not least because Trudeau himself used the term”discrimination“When talking about Bill 21.

It is possible to officially imagine non-selfish arguments against the federal government. between At this point in Bill 21.

There are politicians in Quebec who, undoubtedly, would love a chance to turn this into a fight with Ottawa. If Bill 21 is to fall, it may be best that that defeat is clearly driven by Quebecers.

as A legal scholar has said, the exact role of the federal government in countering provincial laws is a matter of debate (although if the bill is ultimately upheld due to Quebec’s use of the clause, Trudeau should think seriously about taking up the challenge of constitutional reform). may be required).

Trudeau’s refusal to join doesn’t rule out

But refusing to legally engage does not prevent a prime minister – or any other federal leader – from speaking frankly and forcefully about problems with provincial law. If anything, refusing to intervene only adds to an already substantial responsibility of a prime minister to combat hatred and systemic racism in other ways.

The Trudeau government has things it can say for itself in this regard. it made a draft anti-racism strategy And put $45 million for it. It has emphasized on diversifying federal appointments.

The government is promising to enact legislation soon aimed at cracking down on the online spread of hateful content – ​​although a fall election would at least push back the implementation of such a bill. To the extent that words matter, Trudeau probably deserves some credit for the rhetorical leadership in recent times and years.

But after London, there are questions worth asking about what else needs to be done – and why those things can’t happen sooner. Tragedy should never be a precondition for action, but it can be a motivation to double down on one’s efforts. It creates moments that can be seized to advance progress.

National Council of Muslims of Canada met the prime minister To organize a national summit on Islamophobia that brings together representatives from all levels of government. The NCCM says such a meeting will be the “beginning”.

It can be difficult to find a valid reason for not calling such a meeting, even if it actually happened.

“Canada is because Canadians made it that way,” Trudeau said during that speech in 2015.

As Canadians grapple with the reality of their country, that statement can seem to have a double meaning – both positive and negative.

But the case for deliberate effort and political leadership is still as strong as it was then.

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