Originally published at Convivium on August 27, 2021.
The Just Society will be one in which the rights of minorities will be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities. The Just Society will be one in which those regions and groups which have not fully shared in the country’s affluence will be given a better opportunity. The Just Society will be one where such urban problems as housing and pollution will be attacked through the application of new knowledge and new techniques. The Just Society will be one in which our Indian and Inuit populations will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future and more meaningful equality of opportunity. The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfill themselves in the fashion they judge best. (June 10, 1968)
The Official Languages Act of 1969 gave French and English equal standing in federal institutions, the cornerstone for official bilingualism. The same year, Trudeau removed criminal prohibition on homosexuality and introduced a policy paper, often referred to simply as the white paper, intended to put an end to the Indian Act. 1980’s National Energy Program was presented as the design for Canadian energy self-sufficiency, with equitable nationwide price controls on domestic fossil fuels.
The culminating work of Pierre Trudeau’s designs for a just society is found in the Constitution Act, 1982, which features the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (sections 1 to 34, the Charter), and recognition in section 35 of “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.” Section 35 is regarded by many as the response to feedback received from Indigenous leaders following rejection of his 1969 white paper. Sections 1 to 34 present a summary of Canada’s historically developed rights and freedoms.
As Liberal leader, Justin appeared to take a fresh step forward on his father’s vision of a just society by promising to implement electoral reform. “As Prime Minister, I’ll make sure the 2015 election will be the last under first-past-the-post system,” candidate Trudeau declared. After forming government, he rejected the proposal from the all-party parliamentary committee he appointed. They recommended proportional representation. His preferred option was ranked ballots, on which Conservative and NDP voters could reasonably be anticipated to list Liberal as their second choice on the way to 50% +1 in each electoral district.
2021, like 2019 and 2015, will be a first-past-the-post federal election. F-P-T-P is Justin’s best chance at winning government again.
Trudeau also committed to Indigenous reconciliation.
The Indigenous rights file is a mess.
An end to on-reserve boil water advisories was on track until Justin replaced Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott with Seamus O’Regan, a groomsman at Trudeau’s wedding, picking up only slightly when O’Regan was replaced by Marc Miller, another groomsman.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s deal with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to end nationwide blockades in connection with the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline created division among the Wet’suwet’en people, but allowed pipeline construction to move ahead. Recent comments from within Bennett’s office suggest ongoing and unaddressed issues of anti-Indigenous discrimination.
Revelations of unmarked graves from provincially funded searches of former residential school sites also uncovered that federal funds budgeted for that purpose in 2019 had not been made available.
Minister of Fisheries Bernadette Jordan continues to dispute application of a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that affirmed treaty rights to earn a moderate livelihood from the east coast lobster fishery.
Attorney-General David Lametti is still fighting in court about federal government underfunding of on-reserve child and family welfare services.
Justin Trudeau was given a blueprint for reconciliation when the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was handed to him shortly after becoming prime minister in 2015. However, his government has behaved on several fronts as if the copy presented to him ceremonially was accepted only as ceremonial. It needs to be dusted off and read.
On human rights, much of Justin’s record appears to be determined more by polling to secure votes needed to govern than a shared vision with his father for a just society.
Justin has promoted his feminist legitimacy by forcefully stating women have a right to abortion. Pierre, in his vision of a just society, had fashioned legislative exemption from criminal prohibition for medically necessary therapeutic abortions. The son points to the Supreme Court of Canada’s use of his father’s Charter to strike down that very section of the Criminal Code in R. v. Morgentaler (1988). But Justin’s interpretation is not what the court said. The Supreme Court was unanimous in deciding the state had an interest in the life of the foetus, but found Pierre’s legislative provision unconstitutional because it delivered inequitable access to therapeutic abortion assessment committees.
Legal abortion subsists because no government since Brian Mulroney’s has sought to legislate on the issue after Justice Minister Kim Campbell’s Bill C-43 was defeated in the Senate in 1991.
Most frequently raised near or at election time, Justin knows abortion is a divisive subject for the Conservative Party, which accommodates both pro-choice and pro-life supporters. He brooks no pro-life presence in his Liberal Party.
Based on the non-existent right, Justin mandated restrictions on applicants for funding from the decades old Canada Summer Jobs program for 2018. He backtracked a year later, an election year, after Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Christian religious leaders challenged his position as unjust and unconstitutional.
Justin’s “Liberals that will always defend the Charter” will not challenge the Quebec government’s Bill 21 that makes kippahs, hijabs, turbans and crosses unwelcome attire for those in provincial-government-funded jobs. In deference to vote-rich Quebec, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have lamentably taken the same position on the religious-freedom-violating law.
Pierre decriminalized homosexuality. Justin delights in being the first Canadian prime minister to march in a Pride parade.
In 2020 his government introduced legislation to address conversion therapy. Simply because it lacked definition of the seminal term “conversion therapy,” if passed, Bill C-6 would have violated Charter rights to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion for those seeking cisgender affirming counselling. After pushing Bill C-6 through the justice committee in near record time before parliament’s Christmas break, and with declared support from the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to pass the bill, Trudeau let it linger until Parliament was set to adjourn in June. Now, it’s an election issue rather than the law.
Also in June, Trudeau proposed legislation that would regulate Canadians’ use of the internet, including personal social media posts. To do so, he was willing to set aside Charter rights to freedoms of thought, belief, opinion, and expression.
His proposal to amend the Official Languages Act would give special status to French, require judges to speak both official languages, and require education of all students in both official languages.
Most recently, following a Nanos poll showing a majority of Canadians favour mandatory vaccination, Justin reversed his position that COVID-19 vaccines will not be mandatory for any Canadian. Two days before calling an election, he announced vaccination will be mandatory for federal government employees and in federal industries, and vaccine passports will be required for Canadians desiring to travel within Canada by plane, train, or large marine vessels (e.g. ferries). This pays no heed to Charter rights guaranteeing security of the person, freedom of conscience, and interprovincial mobility or to legal accommodation of medical needs or children under twelve. Trudeau said there will be “consequences” for the unvaccinated but not what they will be; a veiled threat unbecoming of a prime minister.
Setting aside respect for Charter rights and freedoms of Canadians and paying little attention to constitutional recognition that Canada is a nation structured through treaties are not the hallmarks of the father’s vision for a just society but the notions of the son’s Justin society.
As Pierre Trudeau said, the rights of minorities should be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities. They should also be safe from the whims of polling in search of a majority.