I was excited to see The Varsity had published what appeared to be an op-ed piece critical of Justin Trudeau’s support for Bill C-51. That enthusiasm quickly waned when the piece turned out to be a twisted critique of a position I and a number of other members of the 2014-15 UTSU board of directors had taken at, for instance, the April 28, 2015 and Sept. 29, 2014 board meetings.


With less than a year to reform our board of directors to be compliant with new — and I would argue arbitrary — Canadian Not for Profit Corporate Act (CNCA) regulations, I, amongst others, felt it was important to discuss what our board structure should be with limited time-pressure. An early approach to this issue was for our board to become provincially rather than federally incorporated, as there was a greater window of time allotted to comply with Ontario corporate regulations. This approach was voted down after some directors argued the extra time incorporating in Ontario would buy us was needless. More recently, the argument has been made that since our board structure can always be amended, our first priority should be to establish a reasonable structure that complies with CNCA regulations, rather than waiting until the last minute to pass a perfect one.


The Varsity article noted that Justin Trudeau has taken a “similar” approach, in that he voted in favor of Bill C-51 despite having reservations about it. While both approaches could be described as “pass now, amend later,” the analogy is weak, if not insulting. By passing C-51 with the intent of amending it later, Justin Trudeau has consented to making law a bill that actively oppresses Canadian residents by empowering the CSIS and overextending the definition of terrorism so that it could possibly refer to First Nations land defenders and others who challenge the Canadian economic status quo. Even if Trudeau does intend on amending this bill later, he has still consented to burdening Canadian residents with this oppressive legislation. This logic does not apply to the UTSU board structure debate. The worst thing that will happen to UofT students if a board structure is passed prematurely is that some constituencies may be under-represented. Under-representation is not equivalent, even by analogy, to oppression.


The Varsity article rightfully called out Trudeau’s position as empty politicking. Unsurprisingly, it then extended that accusation to “pass now, amend later” UTSU officials as well. Again, the analogy proves problematic. Trudeau’s politicking was a case of him abandoning liberal principles and refusing to challenge Harper’s anti-terror rhetoric with the hope that it would get him right-wing votes. The “politicking” my colleagues committed was complying with an imposed legal structure and trying to maximize our chances of reaching a practical solution to the CNCA’s demands by our October deadline.

The accusation that my colleagues and I are political opportunists is dehumanizing and ill-informed. Comparing a right-wing policy decision on intelligence gathering to a relatively minute decision made by generally left-wing students is further frustrating. Analogies between politicians of different stripes can be appropriate. However, the fact that the article doesn’t even address the political oddness of this comparison means it has failed to represent what Trudeau, or the discussed UTSU figures, stand for. If we can’t properly contextualize political figures, how can we meaningfully discuss their behavior?

Most importantly, however, the article was a missed opportunity to skewer Trudeau.

Rather than calling out the virile opportunism that lead Trudeau and his party to support C-51, the article’s insistence on comparing two unrelated issues waters down Trudeau’s crime to an abstraction. Trudeau is guilty of politicking, but not simply because he took the “pass now, amend later” approach. Rather, he is guilty of politicking because he abandoned earlier commitments to social justice for what now appears to be a futile ploy for Conservative votes. Harper once accused Trudeau of “committing sociology” and thus not taking terrorism seriously. In accepting the premise that a version of Bill C-51 is necessary, Trudeau has abandoned the path of “committing sociology,” such as examining terrorism’s root causes. Whatever one thinks of many of last year’s UTSU executives and their supporters, this is an act of betrayal they would never commit.

I hope voters and protesters give Trudeau a hard time for his opportunism. I also hope the UTSU can move beyond dealing with CNCA regulations and begin engaging in its activist campaigns. I believe student media has a place in covering both issues, just, perhaps, not simultaneously.

Zach Morgenstern is a recent University of Toronto graduate who studied Biology and Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies. He represented Victoria College on the University of Toronto Students Union (UTSU) Board of Directors for the Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 semesters.

Photo Credit: Jean-Marc Carisse http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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