The Trudeau government went public this week with a condemnation of Cuba over its lack of free speech protections as the government deployed unprecedented powers to crackdown on Canadian truckers and their supporters. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked the 1988 Emergencies Act for the first time to freeze accounts of truckers and contributions by other Canadian citizens. It was entirely unnecessary and, while the media is largely supportive of Trudeau, the powers have been condemned by civil liberties groups in Canada.
As noted by the Miami Herald, it is rare for Trudeau’s government to criticize Cuba where Canada has considerable economic interests. Canada not only pumps millions of dollars into the economy through tourism but Canadian companies hold lucrative mining contracts on the island.
The condemnation was triggered by Cuba’s outrageous sentencing of protesters from last July to up to 20 years in prison. The government was clearly correct in expressing its outrage. However, there was something jarring in the Trudeau government then adding “Canada strongly advocates for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly free from intimidation. We stand with the people of Cuba in their aspiration for #democracy.”
The 1988 law is meant to address the greatest national threats when existing laws are insufficient. However, there are ample laws allowing the clearing of roads and bridges. Trudeau is using the Act to intimidate not just the truckers but anyone who supports them. That includes sending lists of names to banks for accounts to be frozen and going to court to prevent donations from reaching the truckers.
Ironically, it was Trudeau’s father, who used the predecessor to the Act for the first time in peacetime to suspend civil liberties. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act on Oct. 16, 1970, after separatist terrorists calling themselves the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. The prior Act had never been used in peacetime and only twice before during prior wars.
Justin Trudeau, like his father, has never been a strong supporter of free speech. Indeed, he has more often championed its limitations. He previously declared that “freedom of expression is not without limits . . .
He has long been criticized for his anti-free speech policies, including his move to amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to criminalize any “communication that expresses detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” That regulation of speech was criticized for its vague terms to prevent “social media platforms, [from being] used to threaten, intimidate, bully and harass people, or used to promote racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynistic and homophobic views that target communities, put people’s safety at risk and undermine Canada’s social cohesion or democracy.”
The sweeping and ambiguous standard is clearly intended to chill speech and allow the government the broadest possible scope of powers over speech. It is the codification of the type of ambiguous speech codes used on college campuses.
The timing for the condemnation of Cuba’s free speech policies could not be worse. As the statement went out, images of protesters trampled by police horses were triggering outrage in Ottawa. Yet, Trudeau has always relied on a largely compliant and supportive media in cracking down on conservative speech or dissenting views.
Trudeau caused an uproar when he condemned members of Parliament questioning his powers as supporting Nazis. Trudeau later refused to apologize for his comments.
The sense of impunity by Trudeau is understandable. The media has largely echoed his attacks on the truckers and supported his use of these powers despite the clear threat to free speech and associational rights. We have a de facto state media where the government reasonably expects media and social media to reinforce its message — and effectively silence its critics. To raise questions about these measures is to invite attack.
The response to the Canada crackdown is particularly striking. When mounted officers were shown holding off undocumented migrants at the border, the media went into a collective condemnation of photos that falsely suggested that officers were wipping migrants with their riding straps. This false claim was amplified by President Joe Biden who promise (before any investigation) to punish the officers. (The Administration continues to this day to refuse to release the results of its investigation or to clear these officers). The fact that people fell around a mounted unit does not make the Canadian police the new Cossacks. However, the same was true for the customs officers who actually appear to have been falsely accused.
The fact is that the government always had the power to clear these roads. Trudeau wanted to use the crisis to crackdown on political opponents by threatening funding and chilling supporters. The media has again assisted in this effort by using hacked information to name some of those who are donors. While Twitter barred discussion of the Hunter Biden laptop story before the election on clearly false grounds of hacking, Twitter is allowing such hacked information to be used against supporters of the truckers.
The personal information of roughly 90,000 donors was leaked after hackers reportedly compromised the accounts of GiveSendGo late Sunday. Media figures reportedly posted the hacked list to facilitate the harassment. There is still no word of an FBI investigation into the hacking. In the meantime, donors report being harassed and doxxed by supporters of the Trudeau government and its crackdown on the truckers. It is an organized attempt that parallels the efforts of the Trudeau government.
While Canada is not sending away people for 20 years, it is clearly seeking to use these powers to chill the exercise of free speech. The millions of frozen contributions for the truckers could have been used to support trucker families or activities other than the blockades. The government now could use such powers to shutdown any political group in the name of public safety.
The Canadian government has assembled a blacklist of citizens to have their accounts frozen while blocking support for the movement. It is all meant to intimidate those who want to speak and associate freely. That does not make Canada the new Cuba. However, it also does not make Canada the true north for guiding other nations on the freedom of speech.