En­joy­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion

The Myanmar Times - - Views - BRAN­DON HARDER news­room@mm­times.com

TRUDEAU is not a new name in Canadian pol­i­tics. Where I come from, it hasn’t aged well. So, when I saw a smile break out on the face of a Thai as the topic of Justin Trudeau came up in a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion, I was caught off guard, be­ing in the Land of Smiles not­with­stand­ing.

Trudeau has been Canada’s prime minister for just over a year now, but to many in my home prov­ince of Saskatchewan the sig­nif­i­cance of his fam­ily name goes back nearly five decades. His fa­ther, Pierre El­liott Trudeau, be­came Canada’s leader in 1968.

My own ed­u­ca­tion about the elder Trudeau be­gan at a Chris­tian sum­mer camp near my home­town of Swift Cur­rent. Through­out the late 1990s and early 2000s, I spent at least a week there each sum­mer, be­ing steeped in faith and fun.

One of my camp coun­sel­lors wore an old trucker cap em­bla­zoned with the phrase “Come West Trudeau”. Next to the words was an im­age of a noose hang­ing from a tree.

Im­pres­sion­able at the time, I felt my coun­sel­lor to be the apex of style and right­eous­ness, but I was struck by the cap’s omi­nous mes­sage. I later asked my dad what it meant and I re­call him do­ing his best to ex­plain it in con­text, adding grains of salt where re­quired.

More than 15 years in of­fice, the orig­i­nal Trudeau did much to raise west­ern Canadian ire in­clud­ing his per­ceived dis­re­gard for the plight of strug­gling farm­ers, his forcible im­ple­men­ta­tion of the met­ric sys­tem and his ill-fated Na­tional En­ergy Pro­gram. Be­tween his pol­icy and his some­times cav­a­lier de­meanour, many peo­ple in the re­gion felt as though their PM didn’t care about them.

Time has done lit­tle to change deep-set im­pres­sions of the man. As one of Saskatchewan’s right-wing com­men­ta­tors re­cently put it, “Mem­o­ries around here are long.”

That is true. But some can also be se­lec­tive, at times.

For in­stance, a part of Pierre Trudeau’s legacy that gets less recog­ni­tion where I’m from is the 1982 Con­sti­tu­tion Act. It en­trenched in our con­sti­tu­tion the Canadian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. Along­side other free­dom, it grants “free­dom of thought, be­lief, opin­ion and ex­pres­sion, in­clud­ing free­dom of the press”.

The man who is the sub­ject of such re­sent­ment from many in the West worked to en­sure their free­dom to pro­fess it.

Though we are not al­ways suc­cess­ful, our free­dom of ex­pres­sion helps us hold our lead­ers, and each other, to ac­count.

It main­tains an open di­a­logue about the past and the present. With it, we can dis­cuss our vi­sions for the fu­ture and, go­ing for­ward, whether those vi­sions in­clude Justin Trudeau.

Over his year-long tenure, our cur­rent PM has not been idle.

He cre­ated Canada’s first gen­der­bal­anced cab­i­net. He and his gov­ern­ment made changes to fed­eral spend­ing. They re­tooled Canada’s mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against ter­ror­ism and helped bring 25,000 Syr­ian refugees into the coun­try. They have moved to le­galise mar­i­juana. They launched a na­tional in­quiry into miss­ing and mur­dered In­dige­nous women and girls and, re­cently, they an­nounced a na­tion­wide car­bon tax (2018). All of this has been met with both praise and crit­i­cism.

He has not yet man­aged to win a con­sen­sus of af­fec­tion in the West, where the cards of his­tory and ide­ol­ogy are largely stacked against him. I don’t ex­pect him to.

What I do ex­pect is, even as the Trudeau name en­dures a new vol­ley of crit­i­cism from frus­trated Western­ers, that he will sup­port, as his fa­ther did, our free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

For the time be­ing, it seems he is ready to do just that.

“Free­dom of ex­pres­sion is a true Canadian value, one pro­tected by our Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms,” he said, dur­ing a Septem­ber 1 ad­dress to the Canada China Busi­ness Council in Shang­hai.

“In a world of rapid change, it is a di­ver­sity of ideas and the free abil­ity to ex­press them that drives pos­i­tive change.”

Our free­dom to ex­press is not ab­so­lute and has it­self come un­der scru­tiny, but it is an in­te­gral part of Canadian democ­racy.

Our coun­try is vast, di­verse and di­vided over many is­sues. As such, we of­ten strug­gle to de­fine a sin­gle na­tional iden­tity. How­ever, our free­dom to ex­press our dif­fer­ences says a whole lot about who we are.

In Canada, that free­dom is pro­tected, and that is what makes me smile. – Bran­don Harder is an in­tern at the Life sec­tion of the

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