George Galloway received ten standing ovations during his brief talk at UQAM last Wednesday – a stark contrast from being barred from the country, as he was in March 2009. Wednesday’s was the first lecture of a cross-country speaking tour he has planned in support of the NGO Canadian Boat to Gaza. After an 18-month legal struggle, the controversial former British MP has regained the ability to enter Canada.
A long-time supporter of the Palestinian political party Fatah, Galloway became the subject of media scrutiny in 2009 when he sent an aid convoy to the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Fatah rival Hamas. Galloway also sent a personal donation of £25,000 and several cars to prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.
When he tried to visit Canada for a lecture tour in March of that year, he was denied entry to the country by the Canadian Border Service Agency. The Ministry of Immigration later contested that by dealing with Hamas, Galloway had aided a terrorist organization.
Galloway was notified of the decision by letter and was advised that, should he attempt to come to Canada, he would be detained. As a result, he was forced to deliver his talks via satellite from New York. Only one other – Egypt – has banned Galloway.
“The letter that was written to Galloway said they believed he was a member of a terrorist organization because he had given money to Hamas,” said Galloway’s Canadian lawyer, Barbara Jackman. “The purpose [of the aid] was that the money be used to aid the Gazans. And that’s what the [Hamas] minister used. It’s really a perversion of what Parliament intended. … Aid wasn’t being passed to Hamas as Hamas; it was being passed to Hamas as the government of Gaza.”
On September 27, Justice Richard Mosley ruled that Galloway had been denied entry for illegitimate political reasons, and the ban was lifted.
“What makes George Galloway’s case entirely different is that it wasn’t even initiated by a civil servant,” said Jackman. “It came from the minister’s office. They wanted to keep the man out. … This was a misuse of the legislation, a misuse of the ministerial power to induce him [Galloway] not to come to Canada to speak.”
Galloway now intends to sue the Canadian government. “I believe in freedom of speech, but with some limitations. There must be laws of libel and denigration,” he told the audience at UQAM. “And Mr. [Jason] Kenney [Minister of Immigration], you’re going to find out all about those laws in the legal system in Canada.”
Galloway was also harshly critical of McGill’s recent partnership with Tony Blair in his talk. During his time as a British MP, Galloway was renowned for his opposition to the Iraq War, famously calling the British government “Tony Blair’s lie machine.” These opinions eventually got him thrown out of the Labour Party in 2003.
Galloway’s ban from Canada, and subsequent return, has stirred up media coverage, and seems to have increased public interest in his situation. What was to be a five-city tour has become a ten-city tour and, according to Galloway, lecture halls are selling out.
“I am not afraid of you,” said Galloway of his opponents. “You can’t intimidate me because I am not afraid. I am afraid only of God and as long as God gives me breath, I will continue to say the same thing.”
Galloway’s saga has sparked a debate in the Canadian press about the role of freedom of speech.
“George Bush and Harper’s governments are very similar in their sort of neo-right-wing Christian approach to things,” said Jackman. “The United States has Obama. We still have Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper, who are intolerant to the political views of others.”
Michael Taube, a columnist for the Toronto Star and former speech writer for prime minister Stephen Harper, argued in a November 15 article that the decision to keep Galloway out restricted his freedom of speech, “with questionable intent.”
However, Mosley ruled that, since Galloway had been allowed to deliver his talks via satellite in 2009, there had been no serious infringement of the latter’s right to free speech.
Ehab Lotayef, a member of Canadian Boat to Gaza, told The Daily, “I applaud that decision [to allow Galloway into Canada]. … I have seen over the past seven or eight years how the misuse of the issue of terrorism brings down our freedoms and limits our ability to debate issues that are much better being debated than just swept under the carpet.”
Others are less pleased with Galloway’s return, however. This group includes conservative pundit Ezra Levant, who has been an outspoken opponent of letting Galloway into the country, calling the former MP “pro-terrorist” in a March 20, 2009 blog post.
“George Galloway should be legally inadmissible to Canada because he has given money to a terrorist organization, contrary to section 37 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Levant told The Daily. “It’s got nothing to do with the fact that he’s an offensive bigot. It’s got everything to do with the fact that he gives money to murderers, and that’s against the law.”
The Daily was unable to reach Kenney for comment.
Despite the opposition to Galloway’s presence in Canada, Jackman said it is unlikely that any concrete action will be taken to have him banned again. In his talk at UQAM, Galloway said, “I’m here to stay as a political factor in Canadian politics.”