Canadian News

Trudeau walks back controversial freedom of expression statement

The Prime Minister had previously compared drawing Mohammad to "yelling fire in a crowded movie theater"

Noah David Alter Toronto
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked on Tuesday whether he still condemns the drawing and display of Mohammad cartoons, to which Trudeau replied with a resounding "no," National Post reports.

“I think it is important to continue to defend freedom of expression and freedom of speech," Trudeau said. "Our artists help us to reflect and challenge our views, and they contribute to our society.”

He continued: “nothing justifies the horrific violence we saw last week and over the past weeks. Nothing justifies violence. Nothing justifies terrorism.”

The remarks are a reversal from what the prime minister said last week when he suggested, after being asked about the beheading of a teacher who displayed Mohammad cartoons to his class, that "free expression has its limits."

The prime minister had previously compared drawing Mohammad to "yelling fire in a crowded movie theater" and further explained that “in a pluralistic, diverse and respectful society like ours, we must be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience enormous discrimination."

Trudeau's initial comments were subject to widespread criticism, including from both federal and provincial party leaders and especially in Quebec. Quebec Premier Francois Legault said that he "totally disagrees" with the prime minister, and that he preferred the stance of Emmanuel Macron.

It is unclear what circumstances led Trudeau to change his position on the matter, but commentators are pointing to his critics asking why he did not stand with Emmanuel Macron and the people of France. Francois Legault revealed on Tuesday that he had received a phone call from French President Macron thanking him for his support in the aftermath of the beheading.

Opposition Leader Erin O'Toole referenced Macron when questioning Trudeau on the matter, asking “world leaders have been standing with President Macron and defending free speech. Why hasn’t this prime minister?”

“We stand with the French people,” Trudeau said.

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