Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gestures to a crowd in front of his campaign bus as he visits Cornwall, Ontario, Aug. 22. CNS photo/John Morris, Reuters

Editorial: ‘We don’t do that here’

  • November 15, 2023

Justin Trudeau spoke with clarity and prime ministerial authority to shocking recent violence in Montreal and to the swelling tide of anti-Semitism across Canada whipped up by the Hamas barbarism of Oct. 7.

“We don’t do that here,” the PM said flatly.

His words followed the serious breaking of criminal laws and a wrenching violation of Canada’s long-standing sense of itself where reasonable people can find accommodation or peacefully agree to disagree. Shots were fired at the doors of two Jewish schools in Montreal. Molotov cocktails were thrown at synagogue there. A brawl erupted at Concordia University’s humanities building — let the irony not be missed — when thugs claiming to act for the Palestinian people attacked and slurred Jewish students commemorating the hostages taken by Hamas. A 54-year-old security guard ended up in an ambulance. As if that weren’t wrong enough, an imam during a pro-Palestinian rally stood on a main street in Montreal and exhorted the eradication of Jews.

Indeed, we don’t do that here. At least we thought we didn’t. Sadly, the very need for the prime minister to remind Canadians of what we don’t do signals that we now do that which we insist we don’t. Arguably, we have been doing it at least since 2021 when Catholic churches were burned and vandalized in the wake of reports about unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Prime Minister Trudeau, no doubt unwittingly but still deeply regrettably, contributed to that church burning fever by calling it “understandable.” We have every confidence he would take that horribly wounding word back yesterday if only he could. How could he not? 

Compounding the rupture they represent, again sadly, is the PM’s own joyful declaration several years ago that Canada is the world’s premiere “post-national” state. If we are in a state of post-nationhood so pronounced that there can be no “we” here, precisely what “we” is it that does not do what “we” do not do? Or, alternatively, that we now do and wish we didn’t? Most importantly, what “we” will restore order sufficient to spare, oh, say, Jewish students being demeaned and mauled in the humanities building of a major Canadian university?

That conundrum remains to be worked out. Yet it’s clearly imperative that such restoration begin immediately if not sooner.  A body of us must step forward to assert, with choir-like clarity and unity, the principles of right Canadian conduct in finding accord or respecting each other in peaceful dissent. An example can be found opposite this editorial in our Verbatim feature in the declaration signed by 76,000 U.K. citizens, including some of the leading lights of that society from an astounding variety of fields, setting out barebones principles of sound cultural, social and political conduct. It can be done.

We here at The Catholic Register cannot think of a better body to lay the groundwork for, if not outright lead, such an undertaking than the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Scoffers will scoff, but it’s worth pointing to the extraordinary work the CCCB has done, and the expertise it has developed, in concretely, practically and effectively building reconciliation from the literal ashes of seemingly irreconcilable differences.

Extremists among those who perceive themselves as our enemies set fire to the physical centres of our Catholic life. Yet our Catholic pastors, far from responding in righteous anger despite the pressures within the Church to do just that, emphasized restitution, acknowledged wrongs, insisted on conversations anchored by speaking truth in charity, quietly but insistently extended hands. Equal credit must go, of course, to the Indigenous partners who sidelined the extremists and took the risk of engagement in the process. 

Much work remains to be done. But there is a process in train. There is a body — bodies? —  moving forward to achieve, if not totalizing kumbaya utopia, an order restored or, better yet, renewed. Put another way, a shared understanding of what must be done, and what we do not do here.

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