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Justin Trudeau’s Backpfeifengesicht

authormarty grande-sherbert | oped editor

DonkeyHotey Via Flickr

I will admit that Trudeau has impressed me in one respect: he managed to make the right and the left agree on something. Unfortunately, that something is both are fed up. 

When the Prime Minister came to the town hall at the university last week, I had scheduled myself for work and was unable to attend. Had I gone, though, it would have been early, to join the group that came in support of the Unist’ot’en Camp still reeling from the police raid that took place on their territory. If you haven’t seen the videos and accounts from the police action already, you should know that the RCMP showed up to the checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en land with machine guns, with helicopters, and arrested people who were living on land that is unceded and belongs to them under their nation’s law. Under the UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous people, Article 10 states that Indigenous people should not be forcibly removed from their traditional territories, meaning that the RCMP directly violated UNDRIP with their behaviour.  

The Wet’suwet’en nation and its hereditary chiefs were met with violence over pipelines that they and large portion of the Canadian public has resisted for years. The Canadian government’s continued support of these pipelines has resulted now in a breach of international law, and on the very same day that Wet’suwet’en chiefs decided to open the checkpoint in order to prevent further armed violence on their land – a decision accompanied by tears – Justin Trudeau showed up on our campus and seemed to want to talk about anything but that.  

I may not have been at the town hall myself, but I know from the videos of town halls in other cities, as well as the testimony of organizers from Regina’s town hall, that the camp was brought up, advocated for, and called attention to, and that Trudeau’s answers were described as “lip service,” the man being likened to an answering machine. Chelsea Flook, who stood up in front of Trudeau with a message in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, had this to say in a Facebook post after the Prime Minister addressed her:  

“I went to leave after making my statement and he asked if I would stick around to hear his response, so I waited. But he said the same exact things to me that he said to other people last night in Kamloops. He’s an answering machine with a nice hair cut. That wasn’t dialogue. That was a script.” 

I invite readers to watch some of these videos if you haven’t done so already. The display in Kamloops, which everyone remembers for the advocates’ words “be a man,” is particularly upsetting because the passion and anger on behalf of the camp is clearly visible and met with absolutely no visibly affected response by Trudeau. Another contributor this week takes issue with the words they chose to use, and those are valid concerns in their own way, but I can imagine that the women who were waved away so flippantly by Trudeau simply wanted him to listen. The responses he gave – saying over and over how important it is for Canada to work with Indigenous people, ironically, as he is actively ignoring them – were patronizing and insulting. He went so far as to point out to advocates that there are Indigenous leaders who support the pipeline, implying that those who support his agenda can speak for everyone, but those who oppose it cannot.  

The people who are protecting the unceded land in question are doing so not just for their people and their people’s children – which is a tremendous, sacred responsibility unto itself – but also for the sake of everyone else on this earth who is drinking the water and breathing the air of that land. It is our earth too, and it is incredible to me that Trudeau would put up such a transparent front of caring about a “nation-to-nation relationship” when he cannot even listen to people urging him to act right in front of his eyes. Eyfe also brought up at the town hall meeting the hypocrisy of Trudeau emphasizing “rule of law” – after all, his government is violating Wet’suwet’en law. It is also forcing Canadian postal workers back to work when they have a right to strike. There are an innumerable number of things Canada and the RCMP has done under  the so-called rule of law that in fact were acts of injustice. The question that begs to be asked here is, law to protect whom?  

There is a word in German, backpfeifengesicht, a noun that means “a face asking to be slapped,” which I can’t help but think of in Trudeau’s presence. Do not interpret this as me advocating for physical violence against Trudeau or anyone else – that isn’t what it means in German, either. Rather, it describes a face so smug that you feel like there’s a space there where a well-deserved slap might go, even if it’s not acted on. Trudeau’s Backpfeifengesicht is sunny, polite, and friendly, but it’s no less irritating; it’s the face he puts on in front of people like the supports of the Wet’suwet’en to avoid a direct answer or any real action to bring about change. It’s the face that talks about reconciliation and mutual understanding while turning its eyes and ears away from any voices to the contrary. It’s the face that Canada has worn for too many years, acting like a cuddly grizzly bear in a Mountie hat instead of a country that was founded on genocide and continues to treat Indigenous people like trespassers in their own homes. You cannot blame anyone for wanting to backpfeifen that gesicht, when so much wrong has been done because of its complacency. 

Many commented that Trudeau had some b – uh, had some nerve – to come and do a town hall after what had just happened on Wet’suwet’en land. But when he showed up and started talking, it seems he didn’t have the nerve to hold his government accountable in such a time of crisis. What happens with the Wet’suwet’en nation in the coming months is going to speak to Canada’s priorities, and if Trudeau wants those priorities to be any different than they were years ago as he says with words, he’d better start translating those words into actions. You made us promises about reconciliation when you won the election, Mr. Trudeau, read them again.  

About Marty Grande-Sherbert