Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unjustifiable decision this week to give himself extraordinary powers to quell the largely peaceful trucker protests is a dark stain on the image of liberal democracies around the globe. Trudeau’s emergency order is dangerous both for the future of domestic western politics but also for the alleged world’s commitment to pushing against authoritarian governments across the world.
Trudeau’s government—mired in ethical scandals and who got fewer votes than the opposition—got a set of emergency powers, opposed by the biggest civil rights group, to crack down on a rather small group of protesters and categorize them as financial supporters of terrorism. These powers allow him to freeze the bank accounts of protesters without proper court orders.
The law Trudeau is invoking is reserved for truly dangerous situations, and it has only been used during the two world wars (in which more than 100,000 Canadians died) and in 1970 when a group of Québécois terrorists murdered a British diplomat and kidnapped the Premier of Quebec. As of today, there has been no death nor the kidnapping of a prominent politician, and the House of Commons continues to operate normally and so does the federal Canadian government. How then is it acceptable for a government to ask for powers that have been previously used to defeat Nazi Germany or a group of truly dangerous and murderous terrorists? What damage this does do to the reputation of Western democracies?
As it has been repeated ad nauseam on social media, had Donald Trump done the same during the 2020 BLM protests, the entirety of the leftist mainstream media would (rightly) accuse him of taking an over proportionate power grab to quell internal dissent. Where are the op-eds of the New York Times, Washington Post, or The Atlantic warning of the illiberal turn of Ottawa?
This is not even a pro-Trump/anti-trump issue, had any leader of Latin America or Africa done the same, the State Department or the Foreign Ministry would have issued statements saying they were highly concerned over the antidemocratic measures.
Well, it will be very difficult for the West to do the same now. With what moral authority is Canada going to condemn Nicolás Maduro if he freezes bank accounts of courageous Venezuelans who are peacefully protesting in the streets? How would the State Department answer if Bolsonaro decides to take extraordinary powers and quotes Canada as an example? In fact, the region’s newest authoritarian wannabe, President Nayib Bukele, has already used this argument.
It has been argued that we live in a world where the new struggle is between democracies and authoritarianism, many agree with that assessment, however, sanctioning oppressive regimes abroad is not enough, the Western world needs to give the example. The West has been active in the sanctions part of the equation but has given a poor example in the last couple of years. Nobody who aspires for a democratic government sees the U.S. as a democratic example after what happened on January 6 last year, and Trudeau’s emergency powers make all the West’s statements in defense of democracy smack of hypocrisy.
After all, why would developing countries even care about keeping the due process of the law when Canadians are so eager to throw it away after a couple of weeks of loud (yet largely peaceful) protests? How can someone point out Canada’s emergency order, where the government can “debank” you without due process, as a shining example of liberal democracy?
Developed democracies are, despite whatever the far-left or reactionary groups scream, worth defending against regimes like China. However, remaining oblivious to the clear abuses of power of one leader of a developed democracy is not the way to do so, on the contrary, democracies are fragile things and we need to be even more vigilant when a leader of a developed democracy decides to violate the civil rights of his people in order to quash internal dissent.