MONTREAL – Alexandre Trudeau has no intention of being soft on the federal government, even if his older brother is the prime minister of Canada.
He said, led by his beliefs, he might even find it necessary to oppose some of Justin Trudeau’s decisions.
"I was never very good at censoring myself. Maybe I need to be a little more careful, for sure. But no, I don't censor myself. Not at all. I'm a principled man and I follow my principles no matter what," he said on a promotional tour for his first book, Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China.
Alexandre Trudeau speaks out against security certificates at a rally in Montreal on Aug. 29, 2005. The rally was in support of Hassan Almrei who was on a hunger strike while being held under a security. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
Trudeau — a documentarian, journalist, and now author — attracted attention earlier this year for his support of Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian who was facing deportation after being accused of ties to an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell.
In March, he sent a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to stop Harkat's deportation process. Conservatives saw it as a conflict of interest: how would the minister reply to this request from the prime minister's brother?
Alexandre Trudeau isn't bothered by such accusations, since he would have done the same thing regardless of who was running the government.
"I see myself as one citizen among many who are keeping a close watch on this government to make sure it meets our high expectations — our great expectations — for this marvellous country,” he said in an interview with The Huffington Post Quebec.
Justin Trudeau, 10, gets a right hook from his kid brother, Alexandre "Sacha" Trudeau, 8, as the two await the arrival of their father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, at the airport in Ottawa in 1982. (Photo: Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)
"I will never be complacent,” said the author. “I believe that this government, as with most Canadian governments, realizes the benefits of having citizens who hold it to task."
A self-described "free spirit," he hopes never to have to be "in a position of direct opposition" to the Trudeau government.
"But it could be possible," he said. "And that isn't something I would be afraid of. Nor would my brother, either, I don't think! He knows who I am. We grew up together."
Their youngest brother, Michel, died in an avalanche in 1998 while skiing in B.C.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meets with China’s Deng Xiaoping in Beijing in 1983. (Photo: Andy Clark/Canadian Press)
Pierre Elliot Trudeau travelled to China with his two eldest sons — Justin and Alexandre — in 1990, barely a year after the Tiananmen Square protests. Alexandre, then 16, remembers that their father lectured them after they goofed off on their way down a famous mountain.
"He was very aware that China has its own very complex, very ancient set of dynamics, and that you couldn't go about things in a harsh way. In this case, it meant telling his young kids they were behaving like savages, in a certain way," he said.
Alexandre Trudeau returned to China in 2006, keeping in mind his father's lessons. Accompanied by a young Chinese guide, he travelled to meet artists, entrepreneurs, villagers, young and old alike.
His purpose was to understand China and the essential role it plays in the world, but to also bring an understanding of China to others. The writing process took nearly 10 years, as he attempted to paint a portrait of this country full of contradictions.
Alexandre Trudeau is promoting his new book. (Photo: HuffPost Quebec)
With that goal in mind, he wanted to avoid imposing himself, making his presence as discreet as possible when meeting people. At the beginning of the book, he explains wanting to "give the impression of total disinterest," as if he were bored, distracted, or "a little dense."
"Simply the fact of being from the West, a white man walking around, asking questions, that bothers people. So I tried all kinds of techniques to get around in such a way that people were not too irritated by my presence," he explained.
"I believe every traveller should consider themselves a barbarian: someone who doesn't understand, who is incapable of understanding how a country works. But this is especially true in China, a country that is so complex, so deep, and where things can't be taken for granted."
Justin Trudeau read his brother's book before traveling to China for an official visit and the G20 summit. The prime minister took the opportunity to create lasting ties with Beijing, in addition to raising the question of human rights.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping before the G20 leaders' photo in Hangzhou on Sept. 4. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)
In the interview, his brother Alexandre insisted that we couldn't base our assessment of the country on a political or human level on Western criteria. He also stated it was "simplistic" to think that China could resemble Canada in terms of a democracy.
"China is better than it has ever been, it must be said, in terms of human happiness, and its progress will continue. It has a long way to go before arriving at something we would find acceptable. But to condemn it purely on that basis would be to misunderstand China.
"There's also the idea that we shouldn't do trade with China because it has a political system we don't approve of. If that were the case, honestly, we'd take the whole world off the list. We'd be left with trading with maybe...Sweden and Norway," he said, in a pro-free trade rant.
Alexandre Trudeau speaks at an event in 2003 as his brother, Justin Trudeau, looks on. (Photo : Reuters)
His one reservation is the sale of weapons. "You know, it gets a little more difficult with the sale of arms to repressive regimes. Maybe there's something there that needs to be said. But we only sell oil and canola oil [to China]."
When asked about Canada selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, another place where there are human rights violations, he brushed off the question.
"That's another story," he said. "That doesn't involve China. I will keep that topic for my next project if I have something to say about it."
The question is asked again: Does Alexandre Trudeau have to censor himself now that his brother is prime minister?
"I think that's what I did just now!"