George Galloway, the former British Member of Parliament, is a sharp debater and gifted orator with a ready wit. He was in Canada on a 9-city speaking tour from November 16–27. He addressed standing room audiences in cities from coast to coast to coast including Yellowknife in Canada’s frozen north.
Why is this big news? Galloway was barred from entry into Canada in March 2009 because Canada’s Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney alleged that he supports a terrorist organization — Hamas — and is, therefore, a threat to Canadian national security. Interestingly, Galloway was touring the US at the time and in his words, “US President George W. Bush did not know what Jason Kenney did; that I am a terrorist supporter and sympathiser!” He also pointed out to laughter, that “…there I was sitting in Her Majesty’s Parliament for 25 years, and the honourable speaker did not know that he was harbouring a terrorist or a secret member of a terrorist organization.”
Galloway’s Canadian lawyers together with the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War (TCSW) and the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA) launched a lawsuit to challenge the ban. On September 27, 2010, Judge Mosley of the Federal Court handed down a 60-page ruling saying Galloway was prevented from entry because of his political views. While accepting the government’s plea that Galloway was not banned from entry per se because he did not attempt to enter or present himself at a Canadian border, Judge Mosley said in his ruling that the government had failed to back the claim that Galloway was a supporter or member of a terrorist organization. The judge further ruled that donating money to help the Palestinian people was not a crime under Canadian law and that even if such funding enabled Hamas to divert funds for other purposes it was not proof that the accused knowingly participated in or contributed to a terrorist group. It must also be shown that the accused “intended to aid or facilitate its terrorist activity.”
Immediately after the court ruling, the Canadian media declared this a “victory” for the government. How they interpreted this was not explained. Most Canadian media outlets have become so slavishly pro-government and pro-Israel that they automatically accept official spin on every story. Ample evidence was presented by his lawyers — Barbara Jackman and Hadayt Nizami — in court to prove that Minister Kenney’s office went out of its way to influence the decision to bar Galloway’s entry into Canada. Even the Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency (CSIS) told the government in writing that Galloway was not a security threat. An official at the Canadian High Commission in London said the same thing and advised the government against banning him. Breaching his privacy, Kenney’s office leaked a report to Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper in London that Galloway would be prohibited from entry even before Galloway was informed. All this was revealed in the court documents.
Within days of the court ruling, Galloway was in Canada for one day, having flown from Turkey where he was leading another aid convoy to Gaza, to appear in Toronto to a packed hall of nearly 800 people on October 3. Before he left, Galloway promised that he would return for a multi-city tour later in the year, hence the November 16-27 visit.
He addressed a packed auditorium of students at York University where Zionist organizations led by the Jewish Defence League (JDL) tried to disrupt the meeting. The JDL has been declared a terrorist organization by the US government and even the US-based Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) considers it a terrorist outfit. The Canadian government has not done so. When York University President Dr. Mamdouh Shukri told JDL to keep off the campus, the Zionists launched a campaign against him accusing him of stifling free speech. Egyptian-born Dr. Shukri is a highly respected academic and a brilliant administrator but he is unacceptable to the Zionists. The York University meeting was organized by the Students Council and no one was barred entry into the auditorium, the only restriction being lack of space.
Perhaps Galloway’s most exciting program was his participation at the Eid Dinner held at the Islamic Society of York Region. More than 750 tickets were sold weeks before the event and hundreds of people had to be turned away at the door because of lack of space. Other speakers appearing with Galloway included Canadian Member of Parliament Joe Comartin, Justice Critic for the NDP, Hadayt Nizami, his lawyer, Sandra Ruch of the Independent Jewish Voices who is organizing a Canadian Boat to Gaza, Carolyn Egan, President of the Toronto Council of Steelworkers Union, and Khaled Mouammar, President of the Canadian Arab Federation, that has also been targeted by the current rightwing Canadian government by cutting its funding for immigrant settlement programs.
Galloway also spoke to other huge audiences in Vancouver (more than 1,000 people) and Calgary (600 plus). In Calgary, he challenged Immigration Minister Kenney, who is from there, to an open debate. Kenney went into hiding but unleashed media hounds against Galloway that constantly called him a “supporter of terrorism” because he provided funds to Hamas. There were two kinds of reactions in the media: Galloway’s tour was virtually ignored but when he appeared on any TV program, the line of questioning revolved round the same false accusations against him that had already been dismissed by the court. The media appeared uninterested in the truth; it had an agenda: to paint Galloway as a supporter of terrorism. He has repeatedly stressed that he is neither a member nor supporter of Hamas. But he insists: “the only people that have the right to choose their representatives in Palestine are the Palestinians themselves.” He went on: “Palestinians are being punished for the way they voted.”
Galloway does not deny dealing with Hamas. He has said: “Hamas is the legitimately elected government in Palestine and I have no choice but to deal with it.” He also pointed to the absurdity of Canadian government’s position in not dealing with Hamas. “I have news for Canada. The British are dealing with Hamas; the Americans are dealing indirectly with Hamas; even the Israelis are dealing indirectly with it. The only Western government, it would seem, that refuses to deal with Hamas is Canada.”
He took strong exception to being called an anti-Semite, declaring that those that have slandered and libelled him will face the consequences in court. Galloway was in the underground resistance against apartheid in South Africa. He was supported, maintained and sheltered by Jewish members of the African National Congress (ANC). “Every meal I ate, every house I slept in and every car I was driven in was provided by Jewish members of the ANC. How could I be called an anti-Semite?”
Attempts by Kenney to bar him entry have backfired. Because of the ban and its quashing by a court, Galloway addressed sold-out crowds wherever he went. Given the rousing welcome he received and the fact that he was unable to visit more Canadian cities, he will likely be back sooner rather than later. For now, he has energised the anti-war movement and given hope and confidence to people that even governments, no matter how rightwing, can be successfully challenged in court.