Commentary | Galloway scores a point for free speech

Speaking at UQAM last Wednesday, former British MP George Galloway lambasted the Canadian government for past attempts to “muzzle” him by barring him from entering the country. Galloway has been a vocal critic of the Canadian government’s 2009 decision to bar him entry on the basis of his political beliefs, even going so far as to threaten a lawsuit against the Canadian government for its actions. Galloway is a long-time and controversial antiwar activist, infamous for having given a speech against the first Gulf War in Saddam Hussein’s palace and for his criticisms of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Though Galloway’s positions are polarizing, there is no justification for banning him from the country. The Federal Court’s overturning that ban in September and Galloway’s present Canadian speaking tour indicate that the government’s treatment of him has finally caught up with the Charter.

The current controversy began in January 2009, after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which left nearly 1,500 dead and devastated the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure. Following the invasion, Galloway accompanied a convoy carrying over $1.2 million in supplies into Gaza, including twelve ambulances and a fire truck. The convoy was organized by Galloway’s Viva Palestina organization, and ended with his presentation of the aid to Hamas, Gaza’s democratically elected government, which is classified as a terrorist group by Canada. He also made a personal pledge of three cars and £25,000 (over $45,000) to Gaza’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.

Two months later, Galloway was denied entry to Canada by the Border Services Agency, who cited his associations with Hamas. This decision was quickly appealed on the grounds that it violated freedoms of speech and association; a week later the Federal Court upheld the initial ruling, officially banning Galloway from entering the country. Under Section 34(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Galloway was considered to have provided material support to a terrorist group. Hamas’s classification as such has been hotly contested, not least by Galloway, whose legal team argued that the initial decision was a political one, rather than an issue of security. Indeed, Alykhan Velshi, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s Director of Communications, said Galloway was not welcome in Canada shortly before Galloway attempted to enter the country in 2009. The Federal Court’s most recent ruling confirms the validity of this argument.

Speaking in Toronto last month, Galloway said, “My presence proves that Canada remains a country governed by laws, not by the whims of ‘Here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians.” Whether or not you agree with his politics shouldn’t matter: the decision to allow Galloway to speak in our country is a victory for open discourse.