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LILLEY: Trudeau defends free speech as long as it's not offensive

Toronto Sun logo Toronto Sun 2020-10-31 Brian Lilley
Justin Trudeau wearing a suit and tie: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured at a Parliament Hill news conference on Sept. 25, 2020. © Provided by Toronto Sun Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured at a Parliament Hill news conference on Sept. 25, 2020.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

I don’t think Justin Trudeau, or any prime minister for that matter, should go around needlessly poking religious groups in the eye and saying offensive things to them.

That said, he should be willing to stand and say clearly that it is the right of any and every Canadian to do just that.

The fact that Trudeau has failed to do so three times in the last week tells me he doesn’t actually believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Freedom of Expression to every Canadian.

With France reeling from terrorist attacks brought about by Islamist extremists supposedly provoked by showing images of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, Quebec-based reporters asked Trudeau about the issue three times. Once before the attack in Nice on Thursday and twice afterward.

On all three occasions, Trudeau failed to give a full throated defence on freedom of speech, freedom of expression or any variation thereof.

a group of glass bottles on a table:  People gather near candles and flowers to pay tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in front of the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 30, 2020. © ERIC GAILLARD People gather near candles and flowers to pay tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in front of the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 30, 2020.

“Yesterday we asked you a question and you did not answer,” Canadian Press reporter Lina Dibb said on Friday. “Should it be allowed to make fun of religion and Muslim leaders.”

It was the most direct way the question had been posed to Trudeau so he could hardly dodge this time.

“We will always defend freedom of speech,” Trudeau said in response to the question.

Then he pivoted.

“Freedom of expression is not unlimited. For example, it is not allowed to yell ‘fire’ in a packed theatre,” Trudeau said.

“In a respectful society, such as ours, everyone must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others. There are communities expressing huge discrimination in Canada today. So yes, we will always defend freedom of expression, but everyone must act respectfully towards others and not try to needlessly or arbitrarily hurt someone we share this planet and society with.”

If Trudeau had said he finds the images offensive but we have the right to publish such images in Canada, then that would be a respectful balance. What he is saying though is that we have freedom of speech but we “must” act respectfully, meaning don’t say anything that might offend.

I happen to have rather negative thoughts about the Prime Minister, his actions and his abilities on a daily basis. Should I not express them because they might hurt someone?

Or maybe does this just apply to religion and one religion in particular?

Part of the reason these questions are coming from reporters based in Quebec is that there is a long history of mocking the Catholic Church in that province, of taking on the authorities in less than respectful ways. To tell Quebecers, just as to tell the people of France, that they can make fun of Catholicism but not Islam simply will not fly.

Nor should it.

I’m not going to sit here and advocate for publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed any more than I would advocate publishing the cartoons they print depicting Catholics or Jews. They are offensive and not the type of material that we would publish in this paper.

Yet I will not say that no one should publish them or anything else that gives offence.

a birthday cake with lit candles:  Candles are lit at a makeshift memorial as people gather to pay homage to Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, as part of a national tribute, in Nice, France, October 21, 2020. © Provided by Toronto Sun Candles are lit at a makeshift memorial as people gather to pay homage to Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, as part of a national tribute, in Nice, France, October 21, 2020.

The people who have carried out the terrorist attacks in France over the past two weeks have done so because of the publication of cartoons, because they were shown in a class on free speech, because France stood firm and said we will keep publishing them despite the terrorist attacks. That is a defence of free speech.

What Justin Trudeau did this week was say that he agrees with freedom of speech or freedom of expression as long as no one is hurt. Or as long as you don’t offend people who may act out violently.

That is far from freedom under anyone’s definition. 

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