Trudeau on Charlie Hebdo

by BK Munn

It’s not very often that the Prime Minister of Canada talks about a cartoon magazine, even obliquely about one from another country, in a press conference, so I thought I should mention it here on Sequential for posterity. Last week PM Justin Trudeau made several statements about the recent wave of terrorist attacks in France, attacks that began with the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty who had shared the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons with his teenage students for a class discussion. After expressing his sadness for and solidarity with the people France, Trudeau was asked by a reporter about the right to share these images, and according to reports, had this to say:

“We will always defend freedom of expression, but freedom of expression is not without limits. 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. We do not have the right for example to shout fire in a movie theatre crowded with people, there are always limits. 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.”

On the surface a vague and neutral restatement of longstanding Canadian free speech legalese, Trudeau’s comments are being read, especially in Francophone Quebec, as a stark contrast to French President Emmanuel Macron’s reassertion of the right to publish the cartoons, which have stirred up ire among extremists and divided opinion in France. As well, because the comments address the issue of freedom of expression, several Canadian right wing media outlets, at least those fond of supporting campaigns by Nazi and transphobic public speakers, and eager to publicize any “free speech” issue, have pounced on Trudeau’s “anti-free-speech” stance. To which I can only say, ’twas ever thus, and check your sources.


  1. That’s a dumb statement. A cartoon is not yelling fire in a crowded theatre and doesn’t “unnecessarily injure” anybody.

    1. Agreed, I do think Charlie Hebdo goes out of it’s way to be provocative, but this is the nature of political cartooning and you can’t blame extremist terrorist actions on provocative speech. If they engaged in hate speech and were calling for harm against people i’d have an issue with them but i’ve seen them only at worst, be prone to traveling in stereotypes, mostly to make a point but it’s the worst I think that can be said about them.

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