By Alexander Panetta
The Canadian Press
March 26, 2009
OTTAWA – The Jewish Defence League of Canada is taking credit for lighting the spark that ultimately burned a British politician's plans to enter the country.
The organization advised the federal government early last week about the impending speaking tour of George Galloway, the controversial British MP who has been a bitter critic of Israel.
A letter ~ sent March 16 to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, his cabinet colleague Peter Kent and opposition MPs ~ asked the government to keep that "hater" out of Canada.
"We asked that he not be allowed in," said Meir Weinstein, national director of the Jewish Defence League of Canada.
"Whether or not that had an effect on anyone ~ well, he's not in."
Weinstein said the letter "lit a fire" under other Jewish community leaders to protest the visit, to contact Canadian politicians, and write to newspapers about Galloway.
Four days later, Kenney's office confirmed the British MP would not be allowed into the country.
The government's opponents have accused it of political interference and launched two cases in Federal Court over a ban they say has no legal justification.
Kenney's office swatted away suggestions it was directly involved.
A spokesman said he first heard about Galloway's visit from the Defence League letter, and contacted departmental communications staff at Citizenship and Immigration to prepare media lines.
Kenney stressed that his political staff never contacted the Canada Border Services Agency ~ which made the call that the veteran politician was inadmissible under national-security grounds.
"Neither I nor my office have been in direct touch with CBSA officials about it," Kenney said in an interview.
"But the public servants in both ministries do correspond on a daily basis ~ on hundreds of files like this."
Officials in various departments did liaise with each other over the course of the week.
Kenney was informed March 17 of the CBSA decision. He decided he wouldn't use his extraordinary powers to overturn the ban. Finally, Canadian diplomats in London sent the five-time MP a letter late March 20 declaring him inadmissible.
British media were already on to the story. The previous day, Galloway's office had received a verbal warning of the Canadian government's decision.
Kenney spokesman Alykhan Velshi ~ who had begun preparing media lines on Galloway with departmental staff several days earlier ~ was suddenly fielding phone calls from the British press.
He sent them scurrying to their dictionaries with a memorable slag on Galloway as an "infandous street-corner Cromwell."
Galloway's supporters say the ban has no legal justification and is a politically motivated attack on free speech.
They say the Conservative government concocted an allegation that Galloway supports terrorism simply because they disagree with his pro-Palestinian views.
Lawyers for the Scottish-born MP are filing two separate motions in Federal Court: a request for a judicial review of the government's decision; and a demand for an immediate injunction overturning it.
They say the full judicial review could take months, while the injunction would allow Galloway to enter Canada next week for a four-day speaking tour in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
One of his lawyers told a Parliament Hill news conference that the government has distorted the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to suit its political purposes.
"The act is being interpreted to restrict certain opinions and voices," said Jamie Liew. "This is a dangerous precedent in terms of how we grant access.
"The decision by the government is rare and unprecedented. It's stretching the interpretation to include humanitarian aid ~ or activities including humanitarian aid ~ being described as terrorist activity.
"The legal team is challenging that notion."
The government says Galloway supported the terrorist group Hamas when he led a convoy to help Palestinians following the recent Israeli bombing of Gaza.
Galloway's supporters say the convoy included clothing, diapers, medical supplies, and $45,000 in relief money that he handed to the elected Hamas government.
Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization in Canada.
The Canadian government says the move to bar Galloway was based on the law ~ not politics.
Velshi said the CBSA informed Kenney's office that ~ according to Section 34.1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act ~ Galloway's material support for Hamas rendered him inadmissible.
That legislation bars entry to anyone "engaging in terrorism," or "being a member of a (terrorist) organization"
Galloway's supporters call that absurd.
One of the organizers of his speaking tour said Galloway has never expressed support for terrorism and merely wanted to help Gaza's suffering civilians.
"He was very clear that this is not about supporting Hamas," said James Clark, who has been planning Galloway's visit.
"This is about providing humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza. Canada . . . remains the only country in the world that is interpreting this gesture as a terrorist act.
"There are grounds for us to challenge this legally and politically."
Kenney said he occasionally uses his power to overrule CBSA security assessments but will not do so in this case.
Galloway is currently on a speaking tour in the U.S. and has suggested he'll still try entering Canada. His supporters plan to meet him at the border.
Amazingly, the final decision in a case that has involved several government offices, two national Parliaments, and drawn media attention on both sides of the Atlantic, will belong to one person.
A uniformed border guard.
"(People trying to enter) have an interview with a CBSA officer," Kenney said.
"Someone who has been flagged with a preliminary assessment of inadmissibility is obviously going to get bigger scrutiny.
"But that border officer . . . makes what's called a fresh decision. That border officer looks at all the information and makes a decision on admissibility."
DEAR LORD. AND THESE REASONS, THIS MAN GIVES, DID NOT APPLY TO THE VISIT OF INTERNATIONAL MURDERER AND WAR CRIMINAL BUSH?
BRILLIANT INTERVIEW AND AS ALWAYS, GEORGE PULLS NO PUNCHES.
MORE BRILLIANT GEORGE, THIS ONE GIVES GOOSEBUMPS.
THIS ONE TERRIFIES. AND PEOPLE TRUST THESE MEN? DEAR LORD! CANADA AND AUSTRALIA DO HAVE BIG PROBLEMS HERE.
YOU DONE GOOD, LITTLE BOI.