Jagmeet Singh finally gives the right answer on violence

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has yet again clarified his position on the legitimacy of political violence.

In media interviews last week, Singh was categorically against terrorism, but hedged on other forms of violence, such as armed struggle. Now the NDP leader says he is unequivocally opposed to all forms of violence in the furtherance of political ends, without exception.

Speaking with reporters on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, March 21, following the NDP’s weekly caucus meeting, Singh said: “I condemn political violence absolutely, no question about that.  It’s something that’s unacceptable.  It divides people. It hurts people.  It does not advance justice.  It does not build a better society.”

 Just in case they did not get the message, the New Democratic leader then put the same idea in different words: “Let’s make it clear. I condemn absolutely political violence, absolutely.” And, for good measure, he added, “I have never attended an event where that was the goal of the event.  I have never attended an event where the goal was to advance political violence, nor would I ever.” 

When pressed as to what he might do about future invitations to Sikh nationalist events, Singh said he would not attend any in which he knew participants would be promoting violence.

“If there’s someone on stage advocating political violence no, absolutely not,” he affirmed. “If I know that ahead of time, I will not be going to an event where there’s anyone advocating political violence.”

Singh was, however, at pains to distinguish between political violence, which he “absolutely” condemns, and peaceful advocacy for self-determination.

“There’s clearly a right to do that,” he said of the latter. “There is no connection between advocating for independence and violence.  If an event promotes violence I do not accept that.  I do not accept violence… If someone wants to talk about independence that’s up to the people.”

A position on self-determination at variance with Canadian policy

Singh has cleared up one issue that had vexed many actual and potential NDP supporters. Violence is now totally off the table, full stop, end of story.

But the federal New Democratic leader continues to have a view of peoples’ right to political self-determination that is at odds with historic Canadian policy.

Singh argues that people have the right to decide their own futures democratically, whether they are Scots or Catalans or self-styled Kalistanis, and it is not up to him to dictate what form that self-determination should take.

Successive Canadian governments have unreservedly supported the unity of countries such as Spain and India -- in part because Canada has never welcomed foreign leaders egging on Quebec separatists.

Singh’s emphasis is much more on affirming the rights of peoples to make their own democratic choices than on preserving national unity.

During a visit to Quebec last fall the New Democratic leader expressed his view on self-determination quite enthusiastically, going beyond the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration. That much-misunderstood declaration would, indeed, recognize a simple majority on a clear question proposing separation, but only as the basis for a negotiation. The NDP has never taken the view that independence would be the inevitable and only possible outcome of a yes vote.

The official NDP policy on separation is moderate and balanced. Nonetheless, it has earned New Democrats much electoral grief. Their opponents, especially the Liberals, have been happy to castigate the NDP for its supposed willingness to “break up the country on the strength of a single vote.”

These days, such matters are highly hypothetical and hardly top-of-mind. 

Canadians are not seized with the possibility of Quebec leaving the federation. Right now that is, at best, a remote possibility. And the average Canadian is even less preoccupied with separatist movements elsewhere, be they in Spain or India or Kurdistan. Foreign policy nerds, a pretty small subset of Canadians, might be bothered by the NDP leader’s departure from traditional policy on separatism and self-determination, but few others are likely to care much.

And so, Singh’s most recent, and unqualified, clarification on the much more explosive issue of violence should put the issue to rest, as far as most voters are concerned.

The question that remains is: Why did it take more than one try for the NDP leader to get it right on violence? 

Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

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