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Protesters inadvertently make Justin Trudeau seem reasonable

Despite his long track record of questionable judgement, it is surprisingly possible to make Justin Trudeau occasionally seem reasonable.

On June 4 in a Liberal Party event in Edmonton, Justin Trudeau addressed protesters who were criticizing him over his support for Bill C-51. The bill intends to expand anti-terror legislation, remove oversight of the Canadian spy agency CSIS, and potentially restrict citizens’ civil liberties. Unfortunately, the most prominent, articulate protester who seized Trudeau’s attention and who had the best chance of exposing Trudeau’s lack of judgement did a lackluster job.

Now first of all, let it be known that I have a hard time seeing the appeal of the Liberal leader. I have not been seduced by his looks, the absence of anything that remotely resembles a platform doesn’t inspire my confidence, and his reasons for voting in favor of the bill (“it would have been much easier to sit and say we hate everything Mr. Harper stand for”) is unconvincing. I also don’t think that Bill C-51 is a good idea. The supposed benefits of the bill are vague and dubious and the necessity of further empowering our surveillance community to fight terrorism is questionable. It seems to speak more of the Conservatives’ ‘tough on crime’ mentality instead of actually keeping us safer.

To be fair, these concerns in regards to Bill C-51 were echoed during the protest. But one of the protesters’ comments left me scratching my head. One woman told Trudeau “there’s no such thing as balancing rights and freedoms,” to which Trudeau responded “of course there is, balancing rights and freedoms is what the nature of society is.”

As simplistic as that sounds, Trudeau is correct on that point. In Canada, rights are not absolute. The protester took an overly simplistic and unrealistic stance on Canadian rights, using a conception of inalienable rights that doesn’t mesh well with the kind of society we have. We as a society are always striking a compromise between our rights and freedoms — it’s what laws do and it’s a fundamental part of our democracy. Look no further than Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” And to determine whether or not said limits are reasonable, we have the Supreme Court of Canada which, lately, has not shied away from striking down proposed laws, such as those restricting doctor-assisted suicide.

If we look deeper into the protester’s argument, there is a huge difference between “this bill is a bad idea because it poses an unreasonable risk to our rights, with sketchy benefits in return” and “You can’t take my rights away no ifs, ands or buts.” Both arguments oppose Bill C-51, but the major difference is that the former is more nuanced and more likely to convince people, while the latter is less so and even looks puerile.

This may seem irrelevant to the larger concerns at hand such as the risks posed by the bill, but weird moments like this are jarring and distracting. The takeaway here is that nuance is something that should be embraced while making a point. It isn’t something that hurts credibility and it’s less likely to alienate an audience.

Sure, the point of a protest may be to proclaim a simplistic message and avoid a delicate conversation. But it wouldn’t hurt if the shouted message showed some level of complexity and didn’t promote such an absolute view of rights. That way, politicians such as the well-coiffed Trudeau wouldn’t have such an easy time looking good.

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