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Canadian Political Leaders Spar over Free Expression

Canadian political leaders recently sparred over the limits of free expression.

The exchange of views in Canada began in late October 2020 after Muslim killers in France had carried out separate attacks on a schoolteacher and three people in a church. Two journalists were also wounded outside Charlie Hebdo’s newsroom.

These attacks occurred while a court in Paris was trying 14 people accused of organizing the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. In September 2020, Charlie Hebdo began reprinting cartoons of Muhammad and mocking Muslim extremists.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the violence on October 30, 2020, but his comments on free expression dissatisfied some people.

“Freedom of expression is not unlimited. For example, it’s not allowed to cry ‘fire’ in a packed cinema,” Trudeau said in French during a press conference in Ottawa. “In a respectful society such as ours, everyone must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others.

“There are communities experiencing huge discrimination in Canada today. So yes, we will always defend freedom of expression, but everyone must act respectfully toward others and not try to needlessly or arbitrarily hurt someone we share this planet and society with.”

In the next few days, Canadian political leaders criticized Trudeau’s qualified defence of expression rights. They included

  • Erin O’Toole, the leader of the federal Conservatives
  • Yves-François Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Québécois
  • François Legault, the premier of Quebec

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, phoned Legault on November 3, 2020, to thank him for taking a strong stand on the importance of free speech.

The criticism prompted Trudeau to firm up his defence of free expression.

“Canadians’ rights, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, all the rights Canadians expect governments to defend, we will always defend,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons on November 3, 2020.

“I think it is important to continue defending freedom of expression, freedom of speech,” he added. “Artists help us reflect and challenge our views and they contribute to our society and we will always continue to defend freedom of expression.”


Nov. 6, 2020

BBC News reports:


Levon Sevunts of Radio Canada International reports:


Nov. 4, 2020

In the Montreal Gazette, Philip Authier reports:


Nov. 3, 2020

Peter Zimonjic of CBC News reports:


The Canadian Press reports:


Emerald Bensadoun of Global News reports:

Nov. 2, 2020

Christopher Reynolds of the Canadian Press reports:


News Video

Yves-François Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, speaks at a press conference:


Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader, speaks in the House of Commons:


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to O’Toole in the House of Commons:



In The Niagara Independent, Chris George comments:

In the Toronto Star, Amira Elghawaby comments:


At the World Socialist Web Site, Laurent Lafrance and Keith Jones comment:


National Post

John Ivison comments (Nov. 4):


Chris Selley comments (Nov. 2):


The ChronicleHerald

Dennis E. Curry comments (Nov. 4-5):


Colby Cosh comments (Nov. 3):


Toronto Sun

Erin O’Toole comments (Nov. 13):


The paper editorializes (Nov. 4):


Anthony Furey comments (Nov. 2):


Brian Lilley comments (Oct. 31):


Brian Lilley comments (Oct. 30):


The Post Millennial

Noah David Alter comments (Nov. 2):


Nico Johnson comments (Oct. 31):


News byte courtesy: R. Franklin Carter