LILLEY: O’Toole responds as Trudeau should have on Cubam protests

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When people in more than 40 cities and towns across Cuba began marching in the street this past weekend chanting “We are not afraid!” and “Freedom,” the government reacted the way dictators always do, with a heavy hand.

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Communications were shut down to prevent people from using social media to organize, the police and military used force to disperse crowds and arrest troublemakers.

Asked to condemn the actions of the Cuban government on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a weak response that didn’t even criticize the dictators in Havana.

“Canada has always stood in friendship with the Cuban people,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

That friendship for the Trudeau family, of course, has mostly been with the Castro clan that has ruled Cuba for most of the last 62 years. Fidel Castro was a pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral, both Justin Trudeau and his brother Alexandre have written glowing words about the late dictator.

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When Castro died in 2016, Trudeau issued an official statement on his passing that didn’t reflect on the hardship and poverty imposed on the Cuban people but his family’s admiration for “el Comandante.”

“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation,” Trudeau said at the time.

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So it’s not surprising that when asked to comment on what the current Cuban government is doing to crack down in dissent, Trudeau is treading carefully.

“We have always called for greater freedoms and more defence of human rights in Cuba,” Trudeau said Tuesday. “We will continue to be there to support Cubans in their desire for greater peace, greater stability and greater voice in how things are going.”

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That is what he said when asked to condemn a dictatorship arresting people for protesting the shortage of food, medicine, and other basic necessities of life. It’s an embarrassing answer, but one we should expect from a man who says he admires basic dictatorships.

Without tourists to boost the economy and a downturn in money being sent to Cuba by expats living elsewhere, life on the impoverished island nation has gotten harder. People are lining up for hours to buy food, there is a lack of COVID vaccines and a rise in cases, and the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel has no answers except to attack and arrest people who dare speak up.

At least Díaz-Canel doesn’t have to worry about the Trudeau government daring to speak up.

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In contrast to Trudeau, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole did issue a strong statement and calling out Trudeau for his weak response. He said that he and his party stand with the peaceful protestors taking to the streets over a lack of freedom and basic necessities.

“The struggle for freedom that the Cuban people are fighting for matters. They deserve to live a life free of oppression, where they have access to the basic democratic rights and amenities we so often take for granted in a country such as our own,” O’Toole said.

“We can’t afford more of Mr. Trudeau’s glowing admiration for dictatorships. If you are not concerned about your government supporting democratic rights around the world, then you have four parties to choose from. If you are, then there is only one choice: Canada’s Conservatives.”

In 2015, Trudeau campaigned on changing Canada’s foreign policy to one that he said would reengage with the world. He proudly proclaimed that “Canada is back.”

After six years of Trudeau representing this country on the world stage, all I can say is that I hope enough people do care about supporting democratic rights around the world and elect O’Toole and the Conservatives at the next election.

It’s time we had an adult in charge again, instead of an embarrassment who truly does fawn over dictators.

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