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Sunday, March 6, 2022

The October Crisis of Justin Trudeau

Referring to the coups by which Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 made himself First Consul and later Emperor of the French and his nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in 1851 made himself Emperor of the French, Karl Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, remarked that history repeats itself: '…the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.' We might say the same of Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of The War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970 and Justin Trudeau’s invocation of The Emergency Measures Act last month.

Understanding and judgement of Pierre Trudeau’s action on 1970 are weak and differ radically between those in Quebec who experienced it and remember it and those in the English Canada who merely observed it and have largely forgotten it. But it was serious action in a serious crisis.

Justin Trudeau’s invocation of The Emergency Measures Act was an artefact of his amateur actor’s politics. There was no crisis and the emergency measures were an act.

When they set out the truckers’ convoy was a protest against a vaccine mandate for border crossing. This mandate was obviously pointless and part of Justin Trudeau’s use of vaccine mandates as a ‘wedge issue.’ Unvaccinated truckers had been crossing the border for a year when there were no vaccines, and many months after when they were given no priority for vaccination. But as the States would now require them to be vaccinated their protest was futile. As was pointed out even by those who had some sympathy for them. Most truckers would have no truck with the protest.

By the time they had arrived in Ottawa they had become proxies for everyone who was fed up with the mass of restrictions we have lived under for almost two years. The reporting is sketchy, but plainly many of those protesting in Ottawa were not actually truckers.

Responding to the truckers protest with his usual stock of hateful libels, ‘antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Black racist, homophobic, and transphobic,’ Justin Trudeau then hyped the protest to something like the ‘apprehended insurrection’ that was the ground of his father’s invocation of The War Measures Act, and never happened, though in 1970 many sensible people were panicked into imagining it.

This was Justin’s Big Lie. The truckers' biggest crime, the blocking of the Ambassador Bridge, was cleared up before he invoked Emergency Measures. Otherwise they, and their many fellow travelers, were guilty only of great mischief. But having adopted the Big Lie, Justin had to act as if it were true. The Emergency Measures followed necessarily.

Throughout the pandemic any questioning of the massive restrictions under which we have struggled to live has been vigorously suppressed. As must happen when free questioning is suppressed, many people lacked any understanding of what was being done and lost trust in authorities. Among these were the truckers, and their many sympathizers.

Most protests are inarticulate, disruptive and attractive to troublemakers. The truckers convoy was quite ordinary in this respect. What was extraordinary about it was the widespread sympathy it evoked, but more, led by Justin Trudeau’s instinct to demonize it from political motives, its general condemnation by elites who have been indulgent, or even supportive, of more malign protests.

Also extraordinary was the unanimity, running from the centre to the left, by way of the greens, of support for the Emergency Measures. People who had routinely denounced quite ordinary measures of Stephen Harper’s government, or even Liberal governments, as dictatorial, stepped forward to voice their support for the suspension of our rights and a witch hunt after supporters of the truckers. We only missed Stephen Lewis stepping forward to add his endorsement. The Conservatives’ opposition to the Emergency Measures, and qualified understanding towards the protesters, was condemned as the right uniting in extremism.

The cancellation of the Emergency Measures nine days after they had been invoked was not ‘job done.’ The farce had finished. The freezing of a few bank accounts were the only measures taken. In accordance with the legislation, the reviews will be long in coming.

But the consequences of the farce may be serious. The casualness with which the Act was invoked, the widespread, ready support, in the absence of any good grounds, the keenness with which the persecution of sympathizers with the convoy was projected, the vilification of the opposition, showed a country incapable of serious thought, quick to condemn, not ready to argue.

Meanwhile another tragedy was about to be enacted in Ukraine. There were some, who should have known better, who insinuated that the truckers were a Putin inspired distraction.

With the Emergency Measures ended their supporters pronounced those who had dared to oppose them ‘silly,’ with ladles of Putinesque disinformation to make their case. What was truly silly was the invocation of the Emergency Measures and their approval by an elite herd.

The world is always a serious place. If we try to make a farce of it there will be consequences. History may repeat itself, first as farce, then as tragedy.

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