The following is the first of two articles looking into the curious case of the banning of British socialist MP George Galloway from Canada in March 2009.
The controversy behind the Canadian banning of outspoken British anti-war MP George Galloway is set to deepen -- with potentially damaging implications for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, and others.
In late March 2009, Galloway had been due to speak in a public forum called Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar in Toronto, Mississauga, Ottawa and Montreal after being invited by the Toronto Coalition To Stop The War, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students' Union, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (Montreal) and the Ottawa Peace Assembly.
The presentations were meant to take place after Galloway completed a short speaking tour in the United States. Despite having been previously criticized by American politicians, he was not banned from the U.S. and that leg of the tour eventually went ahead without problems.
Instead of coming to Canada, Galloway delivered his speech in each city by a video link provided by rabble.ca from New York.
Publicly accessible Federal Court documents discuss a short but intense campaign on the part of Kenney's office and government officials to keep Galloway out of Canada, and the incredible lengths they were willing to go to do so. The documents number several hundred pages and include emails, memos, government letters, articles, and court files.
Significant pages from this dossier are linked to throughout this story, and through them rabble.ca paints a different picture of the ban from what the government has previously claimed. Minister Kenney has personally claimed that neither he nor his staff "had been in direct touch with CBSA officials" over Galloway's status. The documents contradict this and raise new questions about the case.
The documents are to be presented when the two sides -- Galloway, The Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and other supporters vs. The Minister of Immigration -- meet in court for the first time in Toronto on Monday, April 26. Lawyers representing Galloway and the organizers of last year's speaking tour will attempt to overturn Kenney's ban on the British MP.
The key questions
Long and fairly complex, this story will be told in two parts. What can be asked, based on these documents, are several, varied questions. Some have no answers at this stage:
Part One, published Monday, April 19
• Did Minister Kenney's director of communications directly interfere with the work of civil servants in Ottawa and London in the case -- with or without the minister's blessing?
• Who leaked news of the banning of George Galloway to the British newspaper The Sun, which broke the story as an exclusive? The leak left staff from Canada's High Commission in London scrambling to reach Galloway before the article was published. They were unable to do so -- and Galloway later confirmed that the first he knew of the ban was when he saw it in the newspaper.
Did this incident violate Galloway's rights under Canada's Privacy Act?
Part Two, to be published Tuesday, April 20
• After Galloway and his supporters launched court action against the ban, 66 pages of documents of particular importance were mistakenly released to his legal team. The documents make up a paper trail of the events leading up to Galloway's ban, and are known as the Court Tribunal Record. The Canadian government's lawyers requested their return, unopened and unread, and in order to be redacted, claiming they related to issues of National Security. The judge, Justice Richard Mosley, declined this request on Jan. 4, 2010, with some minor exceptions.
Why did they want to redact these pages?
• What did the documents show? Were they important to National Security, as was claimed, or were they merely embarrassing to those mentioned in them?
• Did Kenney mislead the House of Commons in terms of his knowledge of the affair? Is this a question of contempt of parliament?
• The prime minister's office and the privy council office were included in several of the email correspondences. How and why were they involved?
Galloway, a U.K. MP since 1987 and a socialist politician known for his showmanship, started his own political party, Respect, after being expelled from the Labour Party in October 2003 for opposing the Iraq war and making controversial comments that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government said called the party into disrepute.
Galloway is known for courting controversy and possessing a keen intellect and great love of political dogfights. But he is also a keen motivator of the British public and raised £1 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza in a single month through his charity Viva Palestina, in response to the bombardment of Gaza by Israel at the end of 2008/start of 2009. The aid consisted of money, vehicles and equipment -- and was driven overland by convoy through Europe and the Middle East.
This was two weeks before his planned North American tour.
On March 10, 2009, he told a press conference in Gaza City attended by several senior Hamas officials: "We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all of their contents, and we make no apology for what I am about to say. We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine." He added he would personally donate three cars and £25,000 to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a senior member of Hamas.
It seems that this gesture angered Canadian officials, who have classified Hamas as a terrorist organization. The paradox of this organization being the elected government of Gaza and the other Palestinian territories, despite holding this outcast status in Canada and other countries, means that anyone dealing with it to this degree and with this amount of publicity is going to be considered suspect by the current Canadian government.
Galloway was banned from Canada for this connection just 10 days later. In an interview with rabble.ca at that time, Minister Kenney's director of communications, Alykhan Velshi, refused to explain the specific grounds for the decision, but referred our reporter to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Section 34(1).
34. (1) A permanent resident or a foreign national is inadmissible on security grounds for
(a) engaging in an act of espionage or an act of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process as they are understood in Canada;
(b) engaging in or instigating the subversion by force of any government;
(c) engaging in terrorism;
(d) being a danger to the security of Canada;
(e) engaging in acts of violence that would or might endanger the lives or safety of persons in Canada; or
(f) being a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c).
The full act can be read here.
On March 18, 2009, Stephane Larue, director general of the Case Management Branch of the CIC, cited Section 34 as the reason why Galloway could be inadmissible. He was told by Velshi: "Thanks. This is quite copacetic." (Click to view copy of correspondence.) This would also, according to another document, make him inadmissible via a TRP [Temporary Residency Permit, the only way Galloway could under normal circumstances enter Canada after a ban. It is permission that can be issued by a border agent]. But after Section 34 was cited, only the minister, Jason Kenney, would have the authority to overrule the decision.
The documents, obtained and reviewed by rabble.ca, are being used in next week's court case. They show that Velshi had been the apparent initiator of the investigation into Galloway's visit to Canada, and was in direct contact with the government bureaucrats responsible for Galloway's case in the run-up to the banning, placing pressure on the civil servants who were investigating the case as part of a security assessment. Such assessments are highly unusual.
Canada's High Commissioner to Britain, Jim Wright, objected to the banning of Galloway in a two-page memo to the Privy Council Office (PCO), the professional bureaucracy serving the prime minister. (Click here and here to view copy.) This memo became part of the evidence government lawyers eventually attempted to have redacted, though it is unclear if this memo was a key reason for the redacting request.
"I became aware yesterday afternoon [March 18, 2009] that CBSA [Canadian Border Services Agency] in consultation with the CIC Minister [Citizenship and Immigration Canada/Jason Kenney] have determined Mr. Galloway to be inadmissible under Section 34 of the Immigration Act because of his ‘material support to Hamas'. This section of the act makes an individual inadmissible for supporting terrorism or terrorist groups. Mr. Galloway thrives on controversy and seeks publicity to promote his views. If he were to arrive at a Canadian Port of Entry and be declared inadmissible, he will generate significant press coverage. The UK press will certainly pick the story and give it play. Bear in mind that it appears Galloway is not being denied entry to the US, where he will be speaking at a number of prominent US universities. It may look odd for Canada to deny him entry, after he has been granted entry to the US."
"I have not been privy to the information used by CBSA to reach this determination. However, my suspicion is that the Brits will be somewhat taken aback by such a Canadian decision, and some (possibly including the UK Government) will feel compelled to defend his freedom of speech, especially as he is a sitting MP. To the best of my knowledge the government here has not taken any sanctions or laid charges against him for his outspokenness or for his support for Hamas and the Palestinian cause. To make matters more challenging, given Privacy legislation, were we to deny him entry, we will not be able to articulate officially the reasons for his inadmissibility."
Along with these comments, the emails by Velshi also make up part of the 66-page Court Tribunal Record which CIC lawyers sought to have redacted.
The details of Velshi's messages to CIC representatives in Ottawa and High Commission staff in London, show his particular interest and involvement, and his connectedness with his boss, CIC Minister Kenney. Much of this information was already made public in a story by The Canadian Press in January this year. The CP reporter in this instance was unable to obtain a response from Velshi and the Foreign Affairs department as they said the case was before the courts, as it still is.
What should be noted when reading the emails:
• Velshi's confidence in knowing Kenney's views and having the minister's active support on the matter of banning Galloway.
• Velshi's concerns about land-based border agents between the U.S. and Canada allowing Galloway entry into Canada -- to the point of voicing his concerns about the capabilities of Canada's passport scanning procedures and technology. He also became personally involved in a frantic search to determine Galloway's geographical location while in the U.S. in order to assess any potential point of entry by the MP into Canada.
• Velshi's use of British newspaper articles, like this one, rather than British government or British intelligence information to build his case against Galloway, and the fact that this is never questioned by the civil servants.
Among other things, Velshi wrote [to Stephane Larue]:
"Thanks for checking on this with CBSA. Obviously trp authority is delegated however if admission requires a trp from the minister I can fairly predict that he will not ever give a trp to someone who advocated the kind of things george galloway advocates. [sic]"
Velshi also explains in an email to Edison Stewart, a communications colleague in CIC in Ottawa, what initiated the investigation on March 16. In it, he says he was tipped off about Galloway's visit by a call from an unnamed journalist, again using the media rather than Canadian/U.K. intelligence to build his case.
"I have a media call asking why we're letting in [Galloway] even though he's publicly called for money to go to a banned terrorist entity in Canada (Hamas) and that makes him inadmissible. I can send you the article where he calls for this."
There is no evidence available of this article being sent or written, who the journalist was and why they contacted Kenney's office and not a more relevant ministry. No mention of this individual seems to have been made again.
The email exchanges between Velshi and officials can be read by clicking here.
They include a strategy for denying entry to Galloway should he try to get to Canada overland from the U.S., and show an extraordinarily heavy use of resources to keep out a notorious but relatively unknown (in Canada) politician who is basically going to make four local political lectures.
The story leak -- A Privacy Act violation?
Further digging into the letters and emails in the 66-page Court Tribunal Record suggests that the Canadian Privacy Act was violated in Galloway's case -- because news of the ban was leaked to the U.K.'s biggest-selling daily newspaper, The Sun, prior to Galloway being informed of the decision by CIC staff from the Canadian High Commission.
The Sun, owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, published the story early on March 20, 2009. Internal emails (click here to view set) show Canadian officials scrambling to limit the damage caused by the leak, particularly as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was shortly due to visit the U.K.; they did not want the publicity to detract from his visit.
Velshi was heavily involved in this process, directing CIC officials and High Commission staff that he was to be the only media contact, for both U.K. and Canadian press once he realized The Sun was going to press with the story and had himself been interviewed by them.
"FYI, the British Sun has learned that Galloway is inadmissible to Canada. I didn't confirm but they seemed pretty confident. They asked if the Minister would be willing to issue a special permit to let him in and I confirmed that, no, under no circumstances would the Minister authorize this. My language may have been slightly more colourful in explaining the rationale."
This message was soon relayed to London.
Velshi's words were colourful indeed. In The Sun, Velshi, identified as Kenney's spokesman rather than by name, told the newspaper's political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, that "George Galloway is not getting a permit -- end of story. He defends the very terrorists trying to kill Canadian forces in Afghanistan." The first sentence, at least, echoed his earlier email comment.
An OK from the Prime Minister's Office, which essentially stated they understood the ramifications and fallout for denying Galloway entry into Canada and were fine with it despite Harper's upcoming visit to London, came hours after The Sun interview was given.
No evidence has surfaced as to the source of the leak, and the CIC's head in London at the time, Robert Orr, told a preliminary hearing by video link on March 18, 2010, that he did not know where the leak originated from, but insisted it wasn't London. The only other option was Ottawa.
A veteran civil servant with over 25 years of service in the CIC and who, months after the Galloway affair, became Canada's ambassador to Tanzania, Orr took part in the following exchange about the leak possibly violating Galloway's privacy rights under Canadian law with Barbara Jackman, a lawyer representing Galloway:
"Q. Is your office bound by the Privacy Act?
A. Yes, we are bound by the Privacy Act.
Q. So am I correct in thinking that... your providing of the preliminary assessment to Mr. Galloway, as you characterize it, was a matter that would be subject to the Privacy Act and not a matter that would go to the press?
A. That is correct.
Q. Do you take that as a serious matter, that it ends up in the press before Mr. Galloway is even told about it?
A. The office in London did not go to the press.
Q. ... Did you investigate to see, because it was only in the London press first that it was publicized, did you investigate to see if the leak came from your office?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Why not? ... Was it because you assumed the leak came from Ottawa, because Mr. Velshi was talking to the press?
A. I did not know where it had come from. I was not trying to make assumptions...
Q. But, Mr. Orr, if you had any real belief that it had come from your office, you would have investigated, would you have not, because it's a breach of the Privacy Act?
A. I believe I was the only one who was dealing directly on the immigration side of it [in London]. I knew I had not gone to the press."
"Q. ...I just wanted your confirmation that the reason you didn't conduct an investigation is because you probably thought [the leak originated in Ottawa], because otherwise you probably would have investigated.
A. ... it didn't occur to me, so I can't really respond.
Q. Is it common? If it didn't occur to you, is it common for leaks to come out in the press from your office? That's not something that happens every day, that the Privacy Act is breached and someone's personal relationship with Canada becomes a matter of public knowledge.
A. That is not the case."
Whatever was indeed the case regarding the Privacy Act and Galloway's rights, when it became obvious that The Sun was going to publish, the CIC staff in Ottawa and the High Commission staff in London found control of the situation slipping away from them.
Different time zones presented a major problem. While it was before 11 a.m. in Ottawa on March 19 when Velshi was interviewed by The Sun's political editor, it was late afternoon in London by the time the first news of pending publication of the story reached the High Commission.
High Commission staff knew they needed to reach Galloway at his East London constituency or House of Commons offices before the end of the business day. Unfortunately for them, this didn't happen... and the maverick leftwing MP discovered he was banned from Canada from a rightwing tabloid.
Fast forward -- The hearing on Galloway's ban
The two sides are due to meet for the first time in the Federal Court of Canada in Toronto on Monday, April 26. Lawyers representing Galloway and the organizers of last year's speaking tour will be in a final push to overturn Kenney's ban. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association will be joining them, having been granted leave to take part in the case.
The hearing is open to the public and is due to begin at 9:30 a.m., in the Federal Court Building on Queen Street West. There will be a rally preceding the hearing, starting at 8:30 a.m., and solidarity rallies at federal court buildings in Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton and elsewhere. Click here for more information.
Tuesday: A question of national security or questionable uses of national security? A look at an attempt to redact the internal government emails and other documents that feature in the above story, all of which discuss the banning of British MP George Galloway from Canada.
Cathryn Atkinson is rabble.ca's news and features editor.