Cathryn Atkinson’s excellent two-part rabble series on the notorious banning of British MP George Galloway is a compelling reminder of that political scandal which occurred one year ago. Unfortunately, the story is just another in a series of déjà vu experiences of the Harper government. These incidents of contempt for Parliament, for the opposition, for the media, for the public and for democratic discourse repeat themselves so often that we are in danger of achieving a new normal, where no one pays attention anymore because they simply expect this behaviour from the Harper government. It’s not even news anymore.
The facts of the Galloway case — or most of them — are now there for all to see and everyone should take the time to read the two-part series and the key documents on which it is based. What the documents establish beyond any doubt is that Kenney, despite his frequent denials, was up to his elbows in the sleazy manipulation of the civil service, the abuse of his powers as minister of the crown, the violation of Canadians’ civil liberties and the violation of privacy laws that was the banning of George Galloway.
The lies coming out of Kenney’s little shop of horrors weren’t limited to the cover-up of his role in the banning of Galloway (a bombastic and determined supporter of the Palestinians, who was part of a convoy of humanitarian aid handed over to the Hamas government in Gaza). They continued in the government’s desperate efforts to censor the documents revealing the banning conspiracy, by claiming they would damage national security. This claim is utterly farcical upon a reading of the documents.
Kenney’s communications director, fellow pro-Israeli hawk, Alykhan Velshi, was the point man for Kenney in pressuring and encouraging the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Immigration bureaucrats to find a way of keeping Galloway out of Canada, where he was scheduled to make four presentations on Middle East issues, including Israel. It didn’t take long for the civil servants in Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to come up with a rationale. According to Atkinson’s article a CIC official responding to Velshi’s request for help “…cited Section 34 [of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act] as the reason why Galloway could be inadmissible. He was told by Velshi: “Thanks. This is quite copacetic.”
Section 34 bans anyone who supports a terrorist organization, which Canada claims Hamas is.
And it progressed from there — including having to deal with complaints by the Canadian High Commissioner in London that such a banning would look bad — especially since Galloway was being allowed to make several high-profile talks in the U.S. before his trip to Canada. It also involved frantic emails back and forth regarding how to ensure that border agents stopped Galloway from getting into the country.
Kenney himself is not found in any of these emails or memos but Velshi could not possibly have taken these initiatives of his own accord – and he speaks with unusual confidence when he tells bureaucrats and the media that Kenney will never let Galloway into the country. In addition, the intense efforts to stop Galloway fit perfectly with Kenney’s other extraordinary actions on behalf of the Israeli government: the cutting of funds to the Canadian Arab Federation, to Kairos and to the UN agency serving Palestinian refugees, and the government’s stacking the board of the Rights and Democracy with pro-Israel members.
It is difficult to identify the most offensive aspect of this sordid little operation but several come to mind. First, few areas of public policy lend themselves to the abuse of individual rights to the same extent as immigration which is why political interference in deciding who can come into the country and who can’t is seen as so egregious. It is open to abuse by those with personal vendettas and the barring of Galloway is little different than a minister pressing the police to arrest someone they find troublesome — and asking them to find some trumped up charge they can use.
Secondly, political interference in the professional civil service has the effect of prostituting the people who Canadians are supposed to trust to be objective and carry out the laws of the land with integrity and fairness.
Third, the documents reveal another level of contempt for government on the part of those, like Kenney and Velshi who works closely with him, who make critical decisions. They too often make them based not on the intelligence and analysis of their own and other government agencies but on rumour and newspaper articles — as they did in the Galloway case.
There was nothing referencing information from the British government nor anything from the High Commission in London — just newspaper reports of Galloway being part of the Viva Palestina aid convoy. It is reminiscent of the shameful case of Abousfian Abdelrazik trapped in the Sudan for six years, where the RCMP and CSIS had both cleared the man but the Harper government refused to bring him home.
Fourth, we now have the kind of evidence that gives us a window into the political corruption and abuse of power that permeates the operations of the PMO and the Defence Department. The issue of the 66 pages of uncensored documents mistakenly sent to the complainants in the court case (that is, Galloway and numerous other parties with standing) demonstrate what we can expect to find if we ever get to see the uncensored version of documents regarding the Afghan detainee issue.
The government tried to get the Galloway documents back and failed. And it seems likely that there is no redacted version of the 66 pages. Once Kenney and company realized that the un-redacted documents were in the hands of Galloway’s lawyers, going ahead with the redaction would have exposed an abuse of process — and the abuse of the claim of national security.
Nonetheless, a simple reading of the documents reveals how preposterous was the government claim that anything in them was a threat to national security. The judge asked to force the return of the documents could find almost nothing to redact — save one page related to the High Commission informing Galloway he was being banned and some headings on other documents. The national security issue reveals just how casually this government is about lying to the public and to Parliament.
But beyond the manipulation, deceit, abuse of power and personal vendetta that is part of this case, the most disturbing part of the story is still the willingness of this government to support every grotesque violation of human rights engaged in by the Israeli government. Many commentators have suggested that the Harper government’s pro-Israel policy — with Kenney as point man — is aimed at locking up the Jewish vote in Canada.
As cynical a move as that might be, the truth is actually worse. In fact Harper and Kenney’s sycophantic attitude towards Israel smacks more of a theocratic right-wing Christian state than it does of vote-getting. First, there just aren’t that many Jewish votes in Canada. Second, more and more Canadian Jews are becoming critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Lastly, a recent BBC poll on global attitudes shows that perceptions of Israel amongst Canadian in general have dramatically worsened, just in the past year. Positive views went from 28 per cent to 23 per cent while negative views increased from 38 per cent to 52 per cent.
No, support for Israel comes not primarily from Canadian Jews but from the radical Christian right which believes that backing Israel’s policies is a key part of the final days before Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. This is Harper’s true strategy: locking in the Christian right vote as part of his formula for achieving a majority. (see Marcie McDonald’s excellent article Stephen Harper and the Theo-Cons and watch for her new book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada out on May 11.).
To understand where Kenney’s political stance comes from we need to revisit his reasons for eliminating the funding for Kairos. According to Bahija Réghaï, writing in rabble, “Kenney’s office justified the ‘defunding’ by citing ‘critical comments’ made by NGO Monitor (NGOM) and demands from B’nai Brith and Canadian Christian College (CCC) president Charles McVety (Toronto Sun).”
McVety is one Canada’s most virulent right-wing Christians and is a close friend of Stephen Harper. In 2006, he was instrumental in creating a new political coalition called Christians United for Israel and hosted its first public event — entitled Israel You’re Not Alone.
Kenney’s reliance on the NGO Monitor for his information on Kairos should scare any normal Canadian silly. The NGOM is run by Gerald Steinberg an Israeli political science professor. In an article in Maclean’s Magazine Paul Wells wrote: “Steinberg’s list of organizations he regards as anti-Israel is long. In one publication he decries CIDA aid to what he calls ‘extremist political groups’ opposed to Israel, among which he counts Médecins du Monde, Oxfam, and the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada.”
Kenney’s political interference in banning George Galloway and his efforts to cover it up by trying to censor documents is reprehensible in its own right. But it is a relatively small piece of the larger picture: the increasing influence over Canadian public policy by the worst Christian extremists in the country.