(February 20, 2022 / JNS) On Feb. 24, 2020, former Indian Supreme Court justice Deepak Gupta delivered a lecture to the Bar arguing that “the right to dissent is the most important right granted by the Constitution.”
Gupta took the ancient idea of challenging authority and gave it dignity: “To question, to challenge, to verify, to ask for accountability from the government is the right of every citizen under the constitution,” he said. “These rights should never be taken away otherwise we will become an unquestioning moribund society, which will not be able to develop any further.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have done well to study Gupta’s address. When he responded to truckers protesting vaccine mandates by saying they had “unacceptable views,” he was undermining the fundamental right to dissent. He was saying, in essence: You have no right to think this way.
He could have argued against unacceptable actions, to the extent that those existed. But instead, he uttered two words that, more than any others, corrode free societies: “unacceptable views.”
We’re seeing now where this thinking can lead. Because Trudeau believed the protesters had views that merited only rejection, he dismissed and maligned them. Instead of engaging, he dug in his heels. Eventually, when he saw that things weren’t going his way, he went draconian and invoked the Emergencies Act.
The only other times a Canadian leader felt compelled to declare such an emergency were during the two World Wars and when terrorists abducted and killed the deputy premier of Quebec. I was a teenage student in Montreal during that crisis, and I’ll never forget the soldiers and army convoys patrolling the park I walked through on the way to school.
The prime minister who invoked these emergency measures was Justin’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. He did it because he sensed a real and significant threat to Quebec’s security. What urgent security threat did his son Justin sense from truckers frustrated by endless and ever-changing vaccine mandates?
As Steven McGuire wrote in The National Post, “In essence, the truckers are rallying against what they view as unacceptable uses of government power. So what does Trudeau do? He asserts even more power.”
It’s a direct line from treating views as “unacceptable” to calling in the troops. Trudeau didn’t see a dispute with dissenters; he saw a battle that had to be won. Compromise be damned.
“Trudeau doesn’t realize that he’s part of the crisis of legitimacy in Western democracies,” McGuire wrote. “He thinks he can deal with democratic dissent with insults and suppression. But politics is about compromise—even with ‘deplorables’ who hold unacceptable views.”
Of course, with views that are seen as “unacceptable,” there’s little room for compromise. In today’s identity politics, people whose views diverge from the politically correct mainstream must be demonized, shunned and shamed.
I can understand such angry sentiments coming from a Twitter mob but from the leader of a free country?
The irony is that by letting his self-righteous wokeness get the better of him, Trudeau failed to see that the “battle” would soon become a moot point. As the Omicron wave recedes, more and more countries are lifting the very restrictions that Canadian truckers are protesting. The truckers’ demands look more reasonable by the day, while Trudeau’s heavy hand looks more authoritarian. The man looks like a leader trapped by his intolerant thoughts.
When we take away people’s fundamental right to dissent, as Justice Gupta reminds us, we become “an unquestioning moribund society, which will not be able to develop any further.”
It is that unquestioning moribund society that is really unacceptable.
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