Commentary  Hyde Park: Questioning Canada’s ban on free speech

Here’s the deal: I do not care to know about your views on abortion, your stance on the legalization of marijuana and, no, not even which side of the Arab-Israeli conflict you are on. I do, however, care about the fact that you maintain your right to believe whatever you wish to believe and to express those beliefs, so long as hate speech isn’t involved.

For those of you who are not familiar with George Galloway, a quick Wiki-search will reveal that he has been a British Member of Parliament since the late eighties. His outspokenness with regard to many controversial topics is what distinguishes him in the public eye from other political figures. In the past, he has defended Hezbollah’s actions against Israel (most famously while being interviewed by Fox News during the 2006 war in Lebanon), charged American politician Norm Coleman and other supporters of the Iraq War with responsibility for the billions of dollars worth of Iraqi national resources being stolen, and argued that the unfortunate London bombings of July 2005 were a result of the U.K.’s foreign policy.

Following the recent blockade and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Galloway initiated the Viva Palestina aid convoy that consisted of more than 100 vehicles, including a fire truck and a boat to be donated and used in the Strip. The 5,000-mile trip from London to Gaza took a little less than a month. Medicine, clothes, and other gifts were also donated.

Galloway was supposed to visit Canada and make speeches in some of its major cities as part of his upcoming North American tour. Concordia University was to host one of those speeches next Wednesday. But last Friday, March 20, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney banned George Galloway from entering Canada in what is clearly a move to silence someone who has been critical of the Canadian government on certain issues. Galloway has argued for the withdrawal of Canadian forces from Afghanistan – a move that he believes the majority of the Canadian population supports. Kenney went on to label Galloway as a “threat to national security.”

Perhaps it is due to the key role Galloway played in the Viva Palestina convoy that brought humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, a party that the U.S. – err… I mean Canadian government has on its list of terrorist organizations. The verbal exchanges between the two sides have not been too friendly. While the government here continues to use second-hand, Bush-quality rhetoric, Galloway went on to call the ban “idiotic.” My request for a comment from the latter’s representative went unanswered. George Galloway will still try to deliver his speeches in Canada, but if border officials refuse him entry then his speech will be transmitted to the various Canadian venues from a studio in New York. Kenney’s office has been flooded with angry letters from writers expressing their displeasure.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the freedoms of speech and of peaceful assembly. The centrality of these concepts to Canada is unavoidable, and yet I find myself in a position where I begin to question whether all people are actually given an equal right to voice their opinion in Canada. I never thought I would see a day when political censorship takes place in very country.

[i]Majd Al Khaldi is a U1 Economics and Political Science student, and encourages you to send over an email to[/i]