by Chantal Hebert
Even as Canada’s leaders were addressing the House of Commons to express their solidarity with the country’s grieving Muslim community on Monday, the White House’s press secretary was arguing that the murderous attack on a Quebec City mosque was “a terrible reminder of why the president is taking steps to be proactive, not reactive” on national security.
Little, of course, could be further from the truth. If one were to connect dots between the shooting that left six dead at the mosque and Donald Trump’s entry ban on citizens and refugees from a number of Muslim-majority countries, one would find a community that is having a target painted on its back by the world’s most powerful elected leader.
It is a connection whose acknowledgment does not come easily to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or, for that matter, to much of Canada’s political class. Monday was a day for all leaders to vouch for and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Muslim community. It will take a while to see how far they are willing to walk their talk.
But by all indications, whistling past the graveyard will only work for so long.
In dealing with the Trump administration, Trudeau has wanted to believe that actions will speak louder than words, that they will, in fact, act as a substitute for speaking out.
In the face of questionable moves by the incoming American administration, he and his government would refrain from taking stances in a manner that could be construed as seeking a frontal collision with the White House. But they would stick with charting a distinct and contrary course for Canada.
On that basis, Trudeau would tweet to commend the hundreds of Canadians who took part in post-inauguration marches in support of women’s rights in the United States but not make a peep about the White House’s moves to make it harder for some of the world’s poorest women to secure safe abortions.
The prime minister would use social media to showcase his government’s embrace of Syrian refugees but offer no opinion about the abrupt suspension of the American participation in the humanitarian operation and the catastrophic domino effect it could have on international resettlement efforts.
Canada would not even beg to differ in public with Trump’s outlandish assertion that keeping out refugees, visitors and immigrants including green card holders from some Muslim-majority countries was necessary to keep the U.S. safe from attacks.
Given that we share the same continent, it is hard to think of a government leader better placed to offer a rebuttal of that narrative than Canada’s.
But while Trudeau and many others in his government spent the past weekend reaffirming their attachment to Canada’s diversity and their determination to continue to enrich it, they all steered well clear of rebutting the premises of the U.S. ban.
That task fell to non-Liberals such as former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney. In a series of tweets on Saturday, he described Trump’s executive order as “a brutal ham-fisted act of demagogic political theatre” and called on Republicans in the American congress to challenge it.
In a statement issued on behalf of all Canadian universities on Sunday and calling for the ban to be ended immediately, their association pointedly noted that this was an issue “that was too important to stay quiet on.”
Asked point blank to address the ban issue in question period on Monday, the prime minister skirted NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s question and stuck to touting Canada’s diversity.
The problem with Canada’s tongue-biting approach is that some actions speak louder than others, especially when they are those of a U.S. administration that is using the office of president as a bullhorn to equate Muslims with security threats.
The refusal to engage beyond the very narrow scope of securing Canadian exemptions from measures that have negative planetwide implications leaves the field wide open to those – starting with the new administration – who are only too eager to distort facts for their own purposes.
Surely Trudeau did not see the White House’s appropriation of the Quebec City tragedy as fodder for its controversial entry ban coming.
Chances are this will not be the last time he is blindsided by his U.S. vis-a-vis.
It was always a given that there would be limits to the lengths the Trudeau government could go to in its quest for a transactional relationship with the Trump administration. But few expected those limits to be reached over a matter of little more than a single week. And yet they have.
Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services