King Charles ignored constitutional limits on his power and thereby ignited a civil war that cost him his life and put England under a military dictatorship for more than a decade. The profound constitutionalist John Selden reflected on this shortly after the king’s execution and before the eventual restoration of the constitution after Oliver Cromwell’s death:
There is no stretching of power; it is a good rule — eat within your stomach, act within your commission.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau certainly is acting like someone who has eaten more than his stomach can hold, as well as far exceeding his commission.
Brian Peckford, former premier of Newfoundland, certainly feels so and had begun taking action even before the truckers began their now-famous protests in Ottawa, at the Ambassador Bridge, and at other places throughout Canada.
Peckford was one of the authors of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s equivalent of the Bill of Rights, which was joined to the Canadian Constitution in 1982. He is the leading spokesman of a group filing suit in Canada against one of the many acts of constitutional overreach: the severe restrictions the Trudeau minority government imposed on travel.
The charter states in section 6:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.
Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right to move to and take up residence in any province…
The Canadian Constitution does provide ways that its Parliament or its provincial legislatures can specifically override this. Peckford argues, however, that no such niceties were observed and that therefore the regulations imposed are invalid, unconstitutional infringements of Canadians’ liberties.
Overreaching governments often respond by claiming that their unique knowledge and capabilities are sufficient justification for their actions. They seek not only ratification of their actions from those whose powers they have taken, but to establish a precedent — the constitution will no longer bind them from any exercise of power it deems appropriate and necessary.
The result of this is clear. The liberties guaranteed by a constitution are now subject to the government’s veto. Effectively, the subjects (no longer citizens) now have only such rights as the government chooses to allow them. This means that government is no longer by the consent of the governed. To the contrary: individual rights are by the consent of a government answerable only to its own conception of its power.
Peckford was one of the political elite, but one who was and is dedicated to the principles of Western democracy. He is forceful and eloquent; hear him out in a brilliant interview with the incandescent Jordan Peterson (start listening just shy of minute 11).
But as we have seen in the past few weeks, the peaceful protests against overreach and the trampling of liberties have burst out among the not-so-elite. Not the kings of the keyboards, not the members of the chattering class, but the people who make the country work, led by the truckers.
Something about this assertion of rights has offended Trudeau. His personality does not seem up to the task that he campaigned for and won. He looks like someone not quite adult, knowing it, and overcompensating. Watching him always gave the feeling of watching someone trying too hard to be someone other than he is.
That was when all he faced was the normal polite opposition offered in Canadian politics. Respect for the law comes naturally in a nation whose founders descended from United Empire Loyalists — those who maintained their allegiance to the British crown while America asserted its independence. Canadians achieved their own independence in a different, slower, more orderly and peaceful way, and all those qualities of peacefulness, order, and respect for law are part of the civilizational sparkle of the land of the loon and the maple leaf.
But the oppressive overreach of Trudeau’s COVID restrictions, far exceeding anything justified by the data and the science, went too far and continued too long to be mistaken by a large part of the regular working people of Canada as anything other than an assault on their rights and thus of their human dignity. They rose up peacefully, and, emulating Martin Luther King Jr.’s method of resisting unconstitutional restrictive laws, practiced non-violent civil disobedience in a way that awoke widespread support and international attention.
Trudeau began his version of respectful dialogue with his aggrieved subjects by labeling their views, without exception, as “unacceptable.” Of course, anyone, who opposes the Great Leader must be on the fringe, with no right to petition and be heard. In the prime minister’s own words, they are “very often misogynistic, racist, women-haters, science-deniers, the fringe.” He let that stand as his only characterization of the protesters. A promising invitation to a national dialogue.
Trudeau then disappeared from view, perhaps believing that the fundamental laws of reality had been so deeply breached by the protest that some natural cataclysm was in order. Perhaps the earth would open and swallow the protesters like it had swallowed up Korach and his crew of dissidents in the Bible.
As followers of Trudeau’s dad might have said — wow! Even Richard Nixon made his way out of the White House to speak to protesters and hear them out. Trudeau seems to fall short of Nixon — with all his paranoia and tics, a most modest measure to fall short of. Not content with the infringements of liberties he has already imposed, Trudeau doubled down and imposed emergency powers intended for times of war, insurrection, or an equivalent existential threat. He threatened seizure of the truckers’ livelihood, imprisonment, and barring them from their chosen work.
The posturing of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator is coming to mind. But Trudeau knows how to spin things when an unpleasant truth is starting to come out: he projects the fascist mindset he has embraced onto those who oppose him politically (see Hillary Clinton’s similar response to the Durham filing for another classic example of this). Not once does he speak of any of the protesters as anything other than swastika-bearing enemies of all that is good, utterly to be excluded from any meaningful political rights. His power, his actions state, is not at the service of the people; the people can be utterly excluded as he sees fit. All Nazis.
Trudeau took this a little further last week. On the floor during a session of the House of Commons, a Jewish Member of Parliament, Melissa Lantsman, a member of the Conservative opposition, sharply criticized Trudeau’s invocation of unprecedented emergency powers. The grim prime minister replied: “Conservative Party members can stand with people who wave swastikas, they can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag.”
He was met with outraged shouts of “Shame!” Lantsman stood to take formal exception to Trudeau’s remarks as a breach of order and demanded an apology:
I am a strong Jewish woman and a member of this House and a descendant of Holocaust survivors and … it’s never been singled out, and I’ve never been made to feel less except for today, when the prime minister accused me of standing with swastikas. I think he owes me an apology. I’d like an apology and I think he owes an apology to all members of this House.
But Trudeau had already left the House. Why does anyone who is so completely right and who holds the highest power have to listen to criticism? They are the Nazis! He probably believes that he believes it — except that every act of petulance, contempt, and overreach shows him to be just a very small man who prefers power to responsibility.
He has eaten more than his belly can contain, Selden would say.
There are a lot of Canadians who will now have their say. A fresh wind is blowing from the north and it is reminding people all over the world of just how precious liberty is. The people will have their say and it can’t come too soon.