A very particular idea of Social Justice™ is part of the Liberal brand now. This isn’t a complaint about political correctness run amok. It’s good that this country is finally in a place to talk openly about its deep-rooted systems of racism and misogyny, even if the process does involve slogging through 8,000 op-eds about an angsty grad student from Laurier every other week. The real problem is that the Liberals are doing such a bad job of social reform that they risk leading progressive activists down a political cul-de-sac.
Let’s take the government’s latest effort to overhaul the criminal justice system. In part a response to the Stanley trial, where an all-white jury acquitted Gerald Stanley of murder and manslaughter in the death of young Cree man Colten Boushie, the Liberals’ stated aim is to create a more racially equitable (and efficient) justice system, achieved by abolishing peremptory challenges (ie the ability for lawyers to arbitrarily dismiss jurors, widely believed to have resulted in Stanley’s all-white jury) and scrapping preliminary inquiries. Sounds great!
Except, actually, maybe not. Preliminary inquiries play their own role in speeding up the court system by ruling out spurious trials before they happen, and the process of peremptory challenges are more often used to ensure diverse juries than racially homogenous ones. Also, on top of all this, the bill is also going to increase maximum sentences and ignore mandatory minimums, both of which are expected to negatively impact marginalized groups the most.
It turns out that something is lost in translation when the conceptual language of critical social theory is filtered through the stupefying machinery of mass partisan politics. Of course, my justice system will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. But a little knowledge is more dangerous than much ignorance—especially when you match it with the breathtaking cynicism of the Canadian Liberal Party. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and the Devil is in the details, but wow what a deal we got on the public tender.
This is the Janus named Justin Trudeau. Any precious pearl-clutching that the government is going too far, too fast is wildly off the mark. For feminist emancipation, we get entrepreneurial subsidies for women instead of accessible childcare. Legal marijuana is less about overturning the injustices of prohibition than in making a bunch of ex-cops and politicians rich. Real Climate Action is an emissions tax plus bitumen pipelines. “Reconciliation” means renaming federal buildings and acknowledging traditional territory but emphatically does not extend to drinking water or recognizing living land rights. (Recall Fanon: in the colonies, “the master laughs at the consciousness of the slave. What he wants from the slave is not recognition but work.”)
There is more at stake here than being disappointed that a politician promised one thing and delivered another. Obviously, these policy approaches risk producing suboptimal outcomes in and of themselves. But every time the Liberals use concepts like ‘social justice’ as props to pose for the camera instead of a principled guide to political thought and action, they undercut the marginalized groups they’re ostensibly trying to help.
Just look at how the Canadian public and media have handled the suggestion that systemic racism exists in this country. If the Liberals’ half-assed vision of “identity politics” is the hill that social justice warriors allow themselves to die on—and surely it is, because the NDP is aping it—they will already have done most of the legwork for Canada’s race-revanchist right.
It’s hard to tell which of the government’s progressive commitments are cold political calculations and which are genuinely in of good faith. The confusion for all this lies squarely at the feet of Trudeau, who quickly burned through two years of global goodwill getting high on his own supply. There is no comfort in Pilate’s sunny disposition; you will be thrown to the mob the moment it becomes politically expedient.
Or, worse: after the next election, it’s Barabbas in Roman robes who marches you off to Golgotha.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.