His three-word response to a violent uprising became one of the most famous ever uttered in the history of Canadian law enforcement: “Just look at me.”
It was October 1970 when Pierre Elliot Trudeau — Justin Trudeau’s father — took this position. When asked outside Parliament how far he would go to stop the Front de libération du Québec, an extremist group that campaigns for Quebec’s independence from Canada, he was provocative. The group had kidnapped a Quebec cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte, who was later assassinated. There had been a reign of terror of hundreds of bombs and robberies in Montreal. A British trade commissioner had also been kidnapped.
Mr. Trudeau succeeded in crushing extremists by invoking the War Measures Act — the only time in Canadian history that it has been applied in peacetime. He sent thousands of soldiers to Montreal and abrogated certain civil liberties. Uniformed soldiers raided houses in search of terrorists. Some 400 people were arrested and detained without charge.
Now some in Canada are asking Justin Trudeau to have his “Just watch me” moment.
“‘Just watch me’ is etched in the memory of all of us who were alive to hear Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau say it, all those years ago,” read a letter published Monday in the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper. “It is time for his son, Justin, to do the same with the protesters in Ottawa.
“Justin Trudeau needs his own ‘look at me’ moment,” added an opinion piece in the National Observer, an online publication. “Canada is under attack,” he said. “It is time for Trudeau to step back.
As anti-vaccine protests in Ottawa persist for a second week, Trudeau has at times appeared to channel his late father’s resolute voice, stubbornly refusing to negotiate with protesters. But he was also adamant that he would not call in the army. As Ottawa residents complain that unruly protesters are terrorizing their daily lives, he has turned to words rather than soldiers in an attempt to tame the protesters, some of whom have mocked him by calling him a ” chicken “.
The protesters are “trying to block the economy, our democracy and the daily lives of our people”, he told the House of Commons on Monday evening. “It has to stop.” “This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,” he added.
Earlier, he denounced protesters for desecrating war memorials, criticized them for displaying “racist flags”, spreading misinformation and even robbing homeless people.
Defenders of Mr Trudeau say calls for him to send in the military are misguided in a country that values freedom of speech while noting that comparing the events of the 1970s – known as the October Crisis – at trucker convoy protest wrongly equates to angry anti -vaxxers with terrorists.
During the crisis, Mr. Trudeau kept a relatively low profile. He was moved to his official country residence, along with his family, to help ensure his safety. He has also self-isolated after testing positive for Covid-19 last week.
Mr. Trudeau, who has long established himself as a champion of human rights, is likely aware of the lessons of the October crisis. As the military suppressed the FLQ, critics at the time accused her father of trampling on civil liberties by allowing law enforcement to arrest people without charge.
Then-New Democratic Party leader Tommy Douglas compared Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s actions to wielding “a hammer to crack a peanut.” Nevertheless, a majority of Canadians supported the Prime Minister’s father in restoring law and order.
The elder Mr. Trudeau, for his part, was unrepentant after sending soldiers to Ottawa to protect public servants. “There are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns,” he said. “All I can say is, go on and bleed.”