Jason Kenney took the brunt of the abuse for the decision to exclude Mr. Galloway from entry into Canada. Yet it was not actually Minister Kenney's decision to make, and he did not actually make it. In fact, the decision rested with the Canada Border Services Agency, which is accountable not to the immigration minister but to the public safety minister -- not to Jason Kenney but to Peter Van Loan. Mr. Kenney, of course, had the prerogative to intervene, and chose not to.
At issue were allegations that Galloway had raised funds and handed over monies to groups in the middle east that are deemed terrorist organizations in Canada. It is illegal in Canada to raise funds for groups deemed to be terrorist organizations by the Canadian government. While Galloway has not done any fundraising in Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and Canadian Consular Services were sufficiently alarmed by his alleged activities abroad in support of groups such as Hamas.
So, Galloway was informed well in advance of his lecture tour that he would not likely be granted permission to enter Canada. Without missing a beat, the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, one of the chief organizers of the anti-war and pro-Palestinian rallies at which Galloway was to have spoken, launched into protest mode.
By now you will have heard that Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has banned British MP George Galloway from entering Canada. Galloway is scheduled to speak in four cities during a pan-Canadian speaking tour from March 30 to April 2.
Kenney's decision to ban Galloway is an unprecedented attack on free speech and on the right to criticize our own government's foreign policy. Kenney's office has publicly stated that Galloway will be banned because of his views on the war in Afghanistan and because he represents a "threat to national security".
The ban follows Kenney's recent attacks on Canadian Arab and Muslim organizations and on Palestine solidarity campaigners for their criticism of Israel's war on Gaza and its treatment of Palestinians. In the last few days, Kenney unilaterally cut funding to the Canadian Arab Federation for its immigrant settlement program. Kenney also recently attacked students organizing Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses across Canada. [emphasis mine]
The organizers cast this as a "free speech" issue, "progressively" tarred Jason Kenney, and ignored the issue that impelled the Canada Border Services Agency (not Kenney) to bar Galloway in the first place.
Surely, it might have been preferable to grant Galloway permission to enter Canada from the start, and to speak at the events for which he was scheduled. I, for one, do firmly believe in free speech and, while I find Galloway's views repellent, I would support his right to speak those views, on Canadian soil. However, if it were found that his events were used for fundraising for Hamas or Hezbollah, and he was aware of this, I would also firmly support his arrest at Pearson Airport as he attempted to leave the country. However, the point is moot. It didn't work out that way.
Instead, Galloway received far more attention and publicity than he ever would have received of his own accord. And he and his supporters used it to their full advantage.
By playing the "free speech" card, the pro-Galloway folks were able to piggy-back onto an issue that is increasingly top-of-mind for a lot of Canadians these days, and certainly an issue that resonates deeply in the Canadian psyche. Free speech is fundamental. Free speech is fair play.
But in this instance, the "free speech card" was not only an obfuscation, but it was also more than a little bit disingenuous. Had the groups sponsoring Galloway's visit (the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, the Ottawa Peace Assembly, and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights) suddenly found "religion"? Where were they during the past year as Canadians such as Ezra Levant, Mark Steyn, Fr. Alphonse de Valk and Ron Gray defended free speech in their inquisitions before Canada's human rights commissions? Cue the crickets. Sure these groups believe in free speech, but apparently only for people they like.
And what of Galloway himself? In 2004, Galloway pressured Britain's Labour government to deny entry to the French right-wing politician Jean-Marie le Pen. And this year, he spoke approvingly of the Home Secretary's decision to block the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. So, what makes Canada's decision to block Galloway different? Well just this -- Galloway would support the banning of le Pen and Wilders because he hates their ideas, while Canada blocked Galloway not because of his words but because of his alleged deeds. As Bob Breakenridge wrote, "In fact, many of Galloway's supporters--including his biggest fan (himself) --ought to avoid the words "free speech" altogether, because we can easily see how spectacularly uncommitted they are to the very notion."
In an attempt to overturn the border ban, the pro-Galloway activists took their appeal to Federal Court, alleging "irreparable harm." Judge Martineau disagreed.
Judge Martineau noted that it was not for him to decide on the credibility of what he called "hearsay" evidence against Mr. Galloway. Instead, the judge explained he was ruling on whether there were grounds for an injunction.
The judge said that there was no "irreparable harm" for Mr. Galloway because he could address the rallies without being in Canada.
As well, the judge observed that the government had not made a final decision on the admissibility of Mr. Galloway, it had only advised him that it was unlikely he would be allowed into the country.
And indeed, Galloway did deliver his address, along with a few gratuitous pot-shots at Jason Kenney, Monday night via video-conference. Nobody tried to prevent him from speaking. Nobody could have. Free speech was alive and well after all -- as if that was truly what any of this was about in the first place.
So, what was it really all about?
Steve Janke weighs in and makes a clear and necessary distinction.
Again, and from the top. This has nothing to do with what George Galloway says. Jason Kenney has no interest whatsoever in what George Galloway says. Nor do most people.
If all George Galloway did was talk, he'd could be in Canada today.
This is about what George Galloway has done. What George Galloway did was raise money for Hamas, and then personally deliver the funds and support to Hamas representatives in Gaza. The Canadian government has designated Hamas a terrorist organization. Foreigners who provide material support for terrorists are not allowed to cross the border. [Emphasis mine]
And for good measure, Terry Glavin cuts through the crap with near surgical precision--
Galloway hasn't even tried to enter Canada, remember. Instead, he has taken the opportunity to combine with his Canadian admirers to exploit the gullibility and general slovenliness of the press in order to tell a pack of lies, monger a lurid conspiracy theory about a secret plot hatched in Ottawa to silence critics of Canada’s engagements in Afghanistan, fabricate a free-speech controversy, and blame it all on the Jews. [emphasis mine]
Yes. That pretty much sums up this sorry affair.
Terry Glavin has left a very thoughtful addendum/corrective in the comments. All points well-taken. My sincerest thanks for that, Terry.
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