We must con­si­der whe­ther riots, unrest and ide­olo­gi­cal attacks on the very fra­me­work of Cana­dian socie­ty sim­ply make the situ­ation worse

By Jack Buckby
Rese­arch associate
Fron­tier Cen­tre for Public Policy

In July, Pri­me Mini­ster Justin Tru­de­au deno­un­ced the arson and van­da­lism of Catho­lic chur­ches across Cana­da in the wake of disco­ve­ries of unmar­ked gra­ves at for­mer resi­den­tial schools.

After more than 1,100 unmar­ked gra­ves were disco­ve­red at the sites of scho­ols pre­vio­usly run by the Catho­lic Church in Bri­tish Colum­bia and Saskat­che­wan, pro­te­sts erup­ted. Sta­tu­es of Queen Vic­to­ria and Queen Eli­za­beth II were torn down and chur­ches damaged.

The sights were distur­bin­gly simi­lar to tho­se seen during the Black Lives Mat­ter riots that erup­ted in the Uni­ted Sta­tes last year. Tho­se riots are belie­ved to have resul­ted in aro­und US$2 bil­lion in damage.

Unli­ke the riots in the U.S., the­se pro­te­sts have been deno­un­ced by the leading left-wing poli­ti­cians in Cana­da. The fact that Tru­de­au would risk losing his pro­gres­si­ve cre­den­tials by cal­ling them out tells us two things.

First, it sug­ge­sts the pro­te­sts have alre­ady gone too far or are at risk of going too far. Tearing down sta­tu­es and bur­ning chur­ches appe­ars to be less abo­ut achie­ving justi­ce for the vic­tims – wha­te­ver justi­ce could possi­bly mean for some­thing that tra­gi­cal­ly hap­pe­ned so long ago. It appe­ars to be part of a lar­ger cam­pa­ign to resha­pe Cana­dian society.
Second, it tells us poli­ti­cians are both awa­re that the­se pro­te­sts are going too far and wil­ling to do some­thing to stop them. There’s an impor­tant dif­fe­ren­ce there.

In July, Eric Kauf­mann argu­ed in The Tele­graph in the Uni­ted King­dom that Cana­da, with the excep­tion of Quebec, is beco­ming the world’s first “woke nation” in the sen­se that “woke­ness” is beco­ming a part of the country’s iden­ti­ty. The­se events are an exam­ple of this, and the fact that poli­ti­cians are respon­ding to it sug­ge­sts it’s tur­ning into a reality.
Riots disrupt the idea that far-left pro­gres­si­vism is a for­ce for good: Tru­de­au like­ly knows this. That could be why he cho­se to deno­un­ce it, kno­wing that if he didn’t toe the fine line betwe­en ack­now­led­ging the tra­ge­dies of the past whi­le reco­gni­zing the deep con­nec­tion Cana­da has to its Euro­pe­an foun­ders, he could have been in tro­uble in the Sept. 20 election.

In any nor­mal elec­tion, the Black Lives Mat­ter riots of 2020 would have seve­re­ly hurt the Demo­crats. But a com­bi­na­tion of lax elec­tion inte­gri­ty laws, hyper-focu­sed mobi­li­za­tion of voters in key Demo­crat are­as and the COVID-19 pan­de­mic gave Joe Biden the edge.
It’s sure­ly quite cle­ar to most voters that tearing down a sta­tue of Queen Eli­za­beth II makes lit­tle sen­se. Are we meant to belie­ve that the Queen oppo­ses the fede­ral government’s pro­mi­se to pro­vi­de mil­lions of dol­lars to help Indi­ge­no­us com­mu­ni­ties find unmar­ked gra­ves and inve­sti­ga­te the cir­cum­stan­ces of tho­se discovered?

What is the end goal of the­se demon­stra­tions? What is the pur­po­se of tearing down histo­ric sta­tu­es and bur­ning down churches?

Given that the people nega­ti­ve­ly impac­ted by the­se actions had no invo­lve­ment in the tra­ge­dies being pro­te­sted, the­se are par­ti­cu­lar­ly impor­tant questions.
If it’s true that pro­te­sters want a “rec­ko­ning” of Canada’s colo­nial histo­ry, as Bri­tish radio host Maajid Nawaz cla­imed in July, then we must also know what that enta­ils. What, at this point, would be con­si­de­red justi­ce – and is it reaso­na­bly attainable?
Few would doubt the deep pain that Indi­ge­no­us com­mu­ni­ties feel when the­se gra­ves con­ti­nue to be discovered.

But at some point, we must con­si­der whe­ther riots, unrest and ide­olo­gi­cal attacks on the very fra­me­work of Cana­dian cul­tu­re and socie­ty help ease that pain or wor­sen it.

Jack Buck­by is a rese­arch asso­cia­te at the Fron­tier Cen­tre for Public Policy.
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