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In Defence of Free Speech-Let- Galloway Speak

[The following piece was written in April 2009]

By Ben Carr


In recent weeks, George Galloway, a British MP relatively unknown outside of the United Kingdom has made headlines across Canada and sparked an intense debate within the House of Commons and the Jewish Community. Galloway is on a speaking tour of cities across North America to discuss various issues including the recent conflict in Gaza and the war in Afghanistan.  However, a few weeks ago, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) made a decision to ban Galloway from entering the country for “security reasons”.  The ruling was then upheld by a Federal Court judge on March 30th. The decision could be reversed by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney who says he has no intentions of doing so.


 The CBSA decision stems from Galloway’s association with Hamas and his past support for organizations such as Hezbollah who have openly supported and promoted anti-Semitism. In the past, Galloway had given $45,000 to Hamas; money he claims was intended to help fund an aid convoy in Gaza. The CBSA view is that Galloway is in violation of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act because he made financial contributions to Hamas, a group that is identified as a terrorist organization in Canada. In his own defence, Galloway has said that he did “what any non-governmental organization, government organization or super-national organization would do. I gave this aid to the democratically-elected government” (see globeandmail.com, March 30th, 2009).

This issue is a difficult one which toes the very thin line that often separates freedom of speech from hate and intolerance. Much of the focus of this debate has centered on Galloway’s so called “right” to enter Canada. In legal text, as pronounced by Judge Martineau who ruled on the matter, “the admission of a foreign national to this country is a privilege determined by statute, regulation or otherwise, and not a matter of right." This issue is about much more than someone’s right to enter Canada or not; it is about the principles of free speech. We are blessed to live in a country like Canada where we are free to express our opinions on university campuses, in newspapers or at the local coffee shop. Denying George Galloway entry into Canada is a mistake for a number of reasons.
First, to say that Galloway is a “security threat” to Canada is farfetched. Galloway, on this same speaking tour has been allowed into the United States. Can we honestly say that George Galloway is less of a threat to the United States than he is to Canada? The reasons provided by the CBSA for denying George Galloway entry into Canada are too thin. We must be presented with further, concrete evidence proving why George Galloway is a security threat to Canada before we suppress free speech.

Day after day University Campus clubs raise money for aid that they send to their families and friends back home, be it in Lebanon, Gaza or the West Bank. At the same time, pro-Palestinian student groups, hand out literature condemning Israel. Do I agree with the positions taken by these groups and do I trust that the money being raised will always go towards the right causes? No, I don’t. However, they should never be told that they do not have the right to express their concerns or their viewpoints.  Many of the student’s at these Universities are not Canadian citizens either. Do their political views in the absence of Canadian citizenship mean that they should be silenced or denied entry to our schools? No. Freedom of speech and the right to openly express your views in this country should not be a question of citizenship. The decision by the Canadian Government to label groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations is one that I agree with. Having said that, it does not and should not prevent any citizen of this country or beyond, from disagreeing with that policy.

Now let me be clear – freedom of speech in the broadest sense should not automatically warrant entry into Canada. We have laws governing the promotion of hate and intolerance and anyone who breaks those laws in Canada should be punished. If George Galloway enters Canada and promotes hatred, he should be charged and punished under Canadian law.

The Jewish Community has often been the victim of ludicrous policies designed to prevent Jewish voices from being heard. Most recently, we have seen this at home through CUPE, who proposed a resolution urging its members to ban Israeli academics that don’t condemn attacks on Gaza. Abroad, we saw similar boycotts put forth by various organizations in the United Kingdom. The Jewish Community was quick to denounce these disgraceful polices, and rightly so. Proposing a ban on Israeli academics is not only an anti-Semitic issue, but a freedom of speech one as well. George Galloway may not believe in the same things that many of us do. He may not support the State of Israel the way that many of us do – but he represents a point of view that, so long as it does not breach the laws of the land, should be heard.  We must be cautious that in our condemnation of those who stand opposed to our values and our beliefs, that we, who have for too long been silenced, do not ourselves become the silencers.
 
I understand both sides of this issue. I, like many, vehemently disagree with what Mr. Galloway represents. I vehemently disagree with what Hamas and Hezbollah stand for.  However, as a supporter of free speech in our society, I believe that it is important to defend its principles. George Galloway should be let into Canada. He should be allowed to express his views on these important issues and then, when he is done making his point, through the beauty of free speech, we will all be able to stand up and tell him why he is wrong.
 

 
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