If the freedom of expression has limits then there is no freedom of expression.
Canadian opposition party leader Erin O'Toole was appalled by Justin Trudeau's tepid support for "free speech" in the face of Islamist attacks over Mohammed cartoons, saying the prime minister is undermining a pillar of democracy.
“It is very disturbing when the prime minister sends the signal that he is not protecting freedom of expression,” O'Toole said on Saturday on Twitter.
O'Toole's rebuke came one day after Trudeau responded to a question about the right to show a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed by saying: “We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet.”
Trudeau made his comments amid a wave of terrorist attacks in France, which began last month with the beheading of a schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a discussion on free speech. Those cartoons had been first published by Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, triggering outrage all over the Muslim world and a 2015 terrorist attack that killed 12 people at the satirical magazine's office in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron last week responded to the schoolteacher murder by defending free-speech rights, leading to calls for a boycott of French products by Turkey and other Muslim countries.
Canada has strong ties to France. In fact, French is the mother tongue of 7.2 million Canadians, or 21 percent of the country's population. Canada also is home to more than a million Muslims.
Trudeau called this month's terrorist attacks “unjustifiable,” but appeared to distance himself from Macron. “In a pluralist, diverse and respectful society like ours, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience a great deal of discrimination,” he said.
Trudeau's comments were met with criticism at home and abroad. Quebec journalist Benoit Dutrizac said Trudeau should be forced to resign after making statements that “place him on the side of the worst Islamists.” He added, “We already knew he had bad judgment, but now he's gone way too far.”
Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley said Trudeau failed to give a “full-throated” defense of the free-speech rights granted to all Canadians. “What Justin Trudeau did this week was say that he agrees with freedom of speech or freedom of expression as long as no one is hurt – or as long as you don't offend people who may act out violently,” Lilley wrote.
The controversy raised eyebrows as far away as India, where Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut blasted Trudeau for failing to defend free-speech rights. “If every petty crime's punishment is beheading each other, then why [do] we need a prime minister or any law and order?” she tweeted.