FEDERAL Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Monday slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his politics of fear and division, and outlined his inclusive vision for the country, in a speech to the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
“Under Stephen Harper, Canadians have been encouraged by their government to be fearful of one another; to be suspicious of each other’s choices,” said Trudeau. “Canada needs leadership that recognizes we are strong not in spite of our differences, but precisely because of them, and that means bringing Canadians together, not dividing them against one another.”
Trudeau argued that Canada’s success is rooted in its unique idea of liberty, which is, at its core, about inclusion. While Canadians identify with both the elements that unite and distinguish them from one another, such as language, culture, religion, gender, and sexual orientation; equally, they appreciate that these contribute to – and do not define – a person’s identity.
Trudeau cautioned that preserving Canada’s unique concept of liberty will not continue without effort, and that despite having built vital institutions around it, like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it will require real political leadership to sustain.
“The idea of Canadian liberty, of inclusive diversity, has made an unimaginably more diverse society harmonious,” said Trudeau. “Canada has proven that a nation can be built on shared values, and those of us lucky enough to benefit from Canadian liberty’s many blessings need to be strong and confident custodians of its character.”
Here is part of Trudeau’s speech:
“I want to tell you about someone. Her name is Rania El-Alloul, and she just endured something that no Canadian ought to be put through.
“Rania arrived in court in Quebec last month on a routine property matter. She is a single mom who is working hard to raise her kids. Like millions of women who face similar circumstances, she has a hard time making ends meet. She was petitioning the court for help.
“Like a million other Canadians, Rania professes the Muslim faith. She presented herself to the court wearing a hijab, a headscarf very commonly worn by Muslim women — and women of other faiths I might add. For her, it is an important part of her personal identity, and an expression of her religious liberty.
“Imagine her shock when the presiding judge refused to hear her case unless she removed her headscarf. Not without reason, she said that order made her feel as if she were not Canadian.
“Rania’s story is part of a troubling trend that Mr Harper seems keen to accelerate and exploit.
“Last year, after more than seven years of accepting the practice, his Minister of Immigration declared by fiat that women would no longer be able to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies. The federal court of appeal overturned the policy.
“But a few weeks before Rania suffered her unjust indignity, Mr Harper made an announcement at a campaign rally in Victoriaville, Quebec.
“What did Mr Harper say at this rally? Despite broad consensus that he has no reasonable chance of success, he announced that his government would appeal the decision because he found the wearing of a niqab “offensive” and was convinced that most Canadians did too.
“Within hours of that rally, the Prime Minister’s party was using it as a fundraising pitch, declaring flatly — and I quote — that wearing a niqab is “not the way we do things here.” Within a week, I am sad to say that a distinguished graduate of McGill, Minister Chris Alexander, was declaring in the House of Commons that even Rania’s hijab represented an indefensible perversion of Canadian values.”
“As I said earlier, my friends, fear is a dangerous thing. Once stoked, whether by a judge from the bench or a Prime Minister with a dog-whistle, there is no way to predict where it will end.
“… Cloaking an argument about what women can wear in the language of feminism has to be the most innovative perversion of liberty that conservatives have invented in a while. It is of course not the first time the most illiberal of ends has been packaged in the language of liberation.
“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make.
“This is a free country. Those are your rights.
“But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn.
“It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.
“Whatever happened to a free society’s requirement that we can disagree with a person’s choices, but must defend their right to make them?
“But what’s even worse than what they’re saying is what they really mean. We all know what is going on here. It is nothing less than an attempt to play on people’s fears and foster prejudice, directly toward the Muslim faith.
“This is not the spirit of Canadian Liberty my friends. It is the spirit of the Komagata Maru. Of the St Louis. Of “none is too many.”
“Canada is where a million Muslims live and thrive in a free and open, secular democracy. The world needs more of that, not less of it.”