Opinion: Trudeau’s long silence shouts complicity with Trump’s outrages

Trudeau's long silence

Donald Trump is the cement boot that threatens to take Canada to the bottom of the river if we don’t risk breaking the chain in the final months of his first term.

Justin Trudeau paused an agonizing 21 seconds Tuesday when asked about the signal it sends to Canadians that he will not directly condemn the words and deeds of the U.S. president.

He then did what many businesses are doing in the pandemic. He pivoted.

He delivered a very reasonable statement about how Canada has its own problems of systemic racism and discrimination that we often don’t see, that many in our country endure and suffer. True that.

But his sealed lips on Trump suggest we cannot criticize if we don’t have our own house in order, that it amounts to hypocrisy when we have our own guilt in decrying offence. It holds us to an excessive, unnecessary standard that delivers the wrong message to those who suffer in our midst – that our leader will not speak for the outrage they are witnessing south of the border.

We can do both: recognize that we have much to do as a country, but recognize that our neighbour is experiencing grief, anguish and rage with a president who is prepared to launch the military on his people, prepared to sanction peace officers to break their vows to protect, prepared to tear-gas peaceful protest and clear aid workers from a church across the street to stage a photo opportunity holding a Bible he has never read, prepared to readmit Russia to the G7, and prepared to lie to his people about the pandemic if the prospect is to save his skin.

What does it take, then, for our prime minister to say what is clearly on his mind – what you could see him thinking when he paused Tuesday? That was not the former actor playing for effect, that was a prime minister calculating not what could be gained but what could be lost in speaking plainly.

In failing to rise to the occasion, Trudeau positions Canada as complicit – perhaps not condoning, but certainly not critical. If your best friend cannot be frank, what does that say about the friendship?

What it appears to say is that Trump’s penchant for autocratic behaviour has cowered even an ally as valuable as Canada. Our prime minister cannot bring himself to say what the vast majority of our country in its heart believes.

We are not a charity case for America. Roughly nine million U.S. jobs depend on Canada, which only recently was ousted as America’s top trade partner by China (we’ll see if that endures). Our trade partnership is integral to both of our economies, not just ours, and our recoveries from the ravages of COVID-19 will require common helping hands.

There is a diplomatic but direct path for Trudeau to take that expresses more than his bromide that we have been watching with “horror and consternation.”

Consternation is a feeling of anxiety and dismay, which is ever so mildly a mitigation of the horror. What’s worse, our anxiety is not that the protests might sustain rather than taper off, but that the president is prepared to unleash the military to enforce his whim.

This, in a period he has been without any compass to be compassionate about the loss of more than 100,000 to the pandemic, many of them due to his discounting of the threat and the demeaning of the science that might have saved lives.

What could possibly come next as he digs the hole deeper, as he doubles down on his doubled-down threats to bring order through disorderly conduct?

Yes, Canada has its own challenges to address. But we can do that and take sides when we witness injustice elsewhere. We do no one any good with self-silence.

Those 21 seconds Tuesday would have been a great start.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

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