There are only a few things that Americans, and largely the rest of the world, know Canada for: hockey, “eh,” health care (because we brag about it all the time), and our “hot” prime minister, Justin Trudeau. (Apparently a lot of Americans don’t realize Drake is from here—not sure what they think the 6ix means.)
Maybe it should be flattering that the rest of the world thinks we’re this benign, post-racial utopia led by a Disney prince, but most of the time I find it frustrating and patronizing, given that it’s untrue.
So it’s about time we got called out.
In the latest episode of his satirical news show Patriot Act, comedian Hasan Minhaj lays bare Canada’s hypocrisy on the environment, Quebec’s secularism bill on religious symbols, and the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. He calls out Trudeau on the disparities between the prime minister’s progressive sound bites and his actual policy.
The episode, aptly called “The Two Sides of Canada,” switches back and forth between Minhaj in studio and a one-on-one interview between Minhaj and Trudeau.
It begins with a nod to some of Trudeau’s greatest public relations hits, including his gender-balanced cabinet, his welcoming stance towards refugees, and his stated dedication to combating climate change.
“He was the dream politician for the left,” Minhaj tells his audience. “He’s like if the Green New Deal had piercing blue eyes and wanted to read your poetry.”
But then Minhaj explains how Trudeau’s approval rating has plummeted, which he attributes to the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Bless him for explaining to an American audience that convoluted controversy, which saw Trudeau found guilty by the country’s ethics commissioner for attempting to pressure his former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into interfering with the criminal prosecution against Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. The company is facing bribery charges with respect to its activities in Libya, and is accused of doing things like paying for sex workers for the son of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
“It’s weird to think of a Canadian scandal involving corruption, bribery, and Libya,” Minhaj says. “The SNC scandal doesn’t fit with our image of Canada or Justin Trudeau.”
That’s when the episode gets good, as we see Minhaj directly contrast the mythology around Canada and Trudeau with what’s actually happening. Here are a few of the highlights.
Quebec secularism law
Minhaj, who is Muslim, asks Trudeau what’s going on with Quebec’s secularism law, which has banned people from wearing religious symbols, such as turbans or hijabs, while working in public sector jobs.
Trudeau sighs deeply and says, “I disagree with it. A government shouldn’t be telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t wear in a free society, so I strongly disagree with that. I have been very clear that in a free society you cannot legitimize discrimination against someone based on their religion.” Trudeau tells Minhaj that Canada “needs to be defending minorities, defending people’s rights.”
The problem, as others have pointed out, is that other than parrot some version of that line when asked, Trudeau hasn’t done anything about the deeply discriminatory law.
Saudi arms deal
Minhaj then delves into Canada’s history as peacekeepers, only to state that “Canada doesn’t participate directly in most conflicts but they make a lot of money from war.”
In particular, he notes Canada’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which was initially signed under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper but has proceeded with Trudeau at the helm.
“It’s so weird to me that this progressive, peace-loving place has a deal to sell tanks to the Saudis, especially when Trudeau’s government has been so vocal about their brutality,” Minhaj says, pointing the the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as one example.
When Minhaj essentially pleads with Trudeau to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Trudeau responds, “We take our legal responsibilities and the breaking of contracts very seriously in this country.”
Minhaj says Trudeau could announce the end of the contract on the show, which he insists is watched by Saudis. Creepily, Trudeau replies, “I don’t doubt that they do. I’m sure they’re keeping an eye on you.”
Minhaj spends most of the episode roasting Canada on its environmental policy, mostly due to the government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“We did the math and there’s no overlap,” Minhaj says, while a graph pops up behind him showing two separate circles, one that says “facing climate change” and the other “extracting a shit ton of oil.”
When he confronts Trudeau, likening the pipeline project to trying to whiten your teeth by drinking wine at every meal, Trudeau talks in circles.
“We are not going to be polluting more; we’re going to be putting a price on pollution and we are going to move forward in a way that a lot of people choose to make fun of by saying ‘you can’t do both at the same time.’ Canadians know you can protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time,” he says, claiming that the pipeline won’t result in ramping up oil production.
Asked about Indigenous opposition to the pipeline, Trudeau makes another utterly vague statement.
“When we’re talking about engaging with Indigenous peoples, it is important to engage responsibly and positively but at the same time to know that there are always going to be a broad number of opinions and perspectives within that community. We need to respond in a substantive way to their concerns and show that we’re listening and working with them in real partnership. That’s what reconciliation looks like.”
Towards the end, Minhaj likes Canada to Wakanda, the futuristic civilization from the American superhero film Black Panther.
“You’re White Panther,” he tells Trudeau, to which Trudeau replies, “I’m like 1/16 Malaysian. Oh no, 32nd or whatever.” OK, Rachel Dolezal.
“We don’t have to get into the Elizabeth Warren math,” Minhaj says, referencing the time the U.S. senator claimed she took a DNA test to prove she’s part Native American.
Admittedly this one isn’t important, but it was just so lame.
When Minhaj asks Trudeau to finish the sentence, “Kawhi Leonard should…,” Trudeau says, “Be very proud of what accomplished in his time in Canada.” Snooze.
But then Minhaj disagrees saying that Leonard should never come back to Canada because he’s a traitor. Trudeau responds, saying, “People bring American sentiments onto Canadian politeness every now and then.”
First off, it was a joke, and secondly Canadian politeness is a boring trope that needs to die.
Minhaj is somewhat apologetic at the end of the episode, noting that everyone loves Canada. “None of you guys wanted to hear any of this,” he says. “I might as well have done a 20-minute takedown of Tom Hanks.”
But I’m pretty grateful. Gonna bookmark it for the next time someone shares a smug “meanwhile in Canada” post of RCMP officers doing a flash dance to Carly Rae Jepsen or whatever.