In 2020, thousands of farmers from all over India traveled to the capital city of Delhi. Protesting agriculture policies they believed threatened their livelihoods, they set up encampments and clashed with police. Responding to the situation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged the authorities to show restraint. "Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest," Trudeau insisted, to the annoyance of the Indian government.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Faced with ongoing, trucker-led demonstrations against vaccine policies in Ottawa and the blockade of a major bridge to the United States, large-scale protests are trying Trudeau's patience. "Blockages, illegal demonstrations are unacceptable, and are negatively impacting businesses and manufacturers," he told Parliament on Wednesday. "It has to stop."
The inconsistency in tone, if perhaps not technical content, is fair game for criticism. Yet Trudeau's not the only one who can be accused of hypocrisy. On this side of the border, media figures and politicians have flipped the script established during the tumults of 2020. At that time, with protests for policing reform in many major cities, progressives mostly defended disruptive tactics like occupations and road shutdowns, if not actual violence, while conservatives called for harsh penalties. Now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argues the Canadian truckers are standing up for freedom, while late-night hosts bemoan the economic and social costs.
Some of this shift has to do with growing enthusiasm for gonzo politics on the right. But the real explanation lies deeper. Very few people uphold consistent opinions on the justice of protest tactics, one way or the other. What matters is their assessment of the goal and participants.
That's not to say it's impossible to make principled judgments. The philosophical debate of the justification of civil disobedience that extends back to Socrates. For political purposes, though, the question is how much sympathy the truckers can attract to themselves and their cause. As Trudeau demonstrated two years ago, sometimes it's easier to admire from a distance than to confront the problem close up.