Many see British MP George Galloway as a downright nuisance: a politician at the vanguard of ultra-leftist populism, who subverts the mainstream view of Western foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. His pro-Palestinian position and characterization of the West as “imperialist” have inflamed governments around the world. Canada’s Immigration Ministry recently described him as a “security threat,” and subsequently barred him from the country. But even Galloway’s harshest critics must concede that he poses no security threat whatsoever, and that the ban imposed upon him must be motivated by something else.
Despite the Immigration Ministry’s assertions that it was not directly responsible for the ban, it’s likely that the move was motivated by a request from the Jewish Defence League. A pro-Israel organization, the League wrote an open letter to the government requesting that it “keep this hater out of the country.” The director of the organization’s Canadian chapter, Meir Weinstein, participated in a joint interview with Galloway for Britain’s Channel 4 News on March 20th (widely available on YouTube), in which he stated: “We are determined to uncover any proxy agents of Hamas and Hezbollah, and we’ve been successful with regards to Mr. Galloway […] we will be looking into these organizations in Canada that have invited him […] their links to terror groups as well.” Galloway responded by promising that if the ban was not overturned, he would speak using “other means,” possibly via video conference. Weinstein replied, “If he uses those other means we will see to it that the Canadian government will be monitoring every individual and organization that has anything to do with it.”
These thinly veiled threats should be alarming to all Canadians, regardless of whether they agree with Galloway’s views. Galloway had been invited to speak in Toronto at the Metropolitan United Church at the behest of the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Ryerson University Student’s Union, and the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War. Under Section 34 of the Immigration Act, the Canadian Border Agency can declare an individual inadmissible for “being a member of an organisation that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts: of espionage, of subversion against a democratic government, or of terrorism.”
During a recent trip to the Gaza Strip with the charity “Viva Palestina,” Galloway accompanied a convoy carrying fire trucks, ambulances, food, and medical supplies. If the government of Canada views these as reasonable grounds to bar someone from entering the country, then it must be prepared to bar the Red Crescent and the many UN organizations that deliver aid to Gaza on a regular basis.
The ban imposed by the Immigration Ministry demonstrated the extent to which the Harper Government has moved to allign Canada with Israel and some of its most intransigent supporters like Meir Weinstein. Canada has perhaps the most ardently pro-Israel government in the world. While many Canadians see the need to show solidarity towards the Middle East’s truest and most vibrant democracy, the government’s position extends far beyond mere support. Though both European governments and the new Obama Administration have made tepid criticisms of the State’s expansion into parts of the West Bank and the incoming right-wing bloc’s cynical rejection of the two-state solution, Harper has yet to utter a single word of disapproval. Now he is actively preventing a critic of Israel from entering the country.
The duplicity of the ban’s supporters, both inside and outside of the government, is astounding. Many remember the infamously Islamophobic Danish cartoons of 2006, which were defended by members of the Right on grounds of free speech. That same year, Hamas won Palestine’s first-ever truly democratic election, and had their legitimacy ignored by the very same governments who had purportedly invaded Iraq on a messianic mission to spread democracy to the Arab world. Many reacted with understandable outrage when CUPE President Sid Ryan proposed banning Israeli academics who refused to denounce their own country’s policies. Yet many of the same individuals praise the ban on Galloway, claiming that this case is not an issue of free speech.
One can imagine a different situation, in which a less pro-Israel, leftist Canadian government tried to prevent a polemicist of the opposite political stripe from speaking in the country, perhaps after receiving an open letter from the president of CUPE. In such circumstances, the outrage would be tremendous, and it would be perfectly justified. Under no conditions should the government of a free and democratic society actively prevent someone from engaging in dissent, so long as this dissent is peaceful.
The ban on George Galloway is an affront to the most fundamental principles of Canadian democracy: openness and freedom of speech. Canadians of all political stripes should be appalled that their government is unwilling to rise to this most elementary moral standard and allow George Galloway to speak in this country.