TORONTO - The decision to ban a controversial British MP from Canada was an "exercise in taunting" by senior government officials who disagreed with George Galloway's views on Afghanistan, lawyers argued during a judicial review Wednesday.
Lawyer Barbara Jackman said the Canadian government falsely and unfairly labelled Galloway a terrorist because it didn't like his views.
All Galloway did was provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, Jackman said, a move that some claimed meant he supported Hamas, which has been deemed a terrorist organization.
"It's clear Canadian aid was going into Gaza, so it's all right for our government to do it but not for Mr. Galloway?" she asked.
"If in fact Mr. Galloway is a terrorist because he provided humanitarian aid to the government of Gaza, then our prime minister is as well."
Galloway, an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian people, had planned to make a four-city speaking tour of Canada in March 2009. Immigration officials declared him inadmissible, saying he had provided financial support to Hamas.
The Canada Border Services Agency cited his involvement in an aid convoy that delivered clothing, medical items, relief money and vehicles to the elected Hamas government, as well as Galloway's donation of three cars and $44,000 to Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.
His lawyers and supporters argue the ban amounts to an assault on freedom of expression and should be overturned. They say the issue is not only about his right to free speech but also about the right of Canadians to hear from such speakers and voice their opposition if they so choose.
Any reasonable person looking at the facts of this case, Jackman said Wednesday during the Federal Court hearing, would conclude that Galloway was labelled a terrorist for simply having engaged in speech the federal government disagreed with.
That "minimizes what terrorism is," she said.
"What's the purpose of having terrorism legislation if it covers everyone who gives a speech?"
Galloway supporters have called on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to resign over what they say was an abuse of power for directly interfering with the ban.
A flurry of internal government emails in the run-up to the ban show Kenney's office was clear in its opposition to the visit, with his spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, writing the minister would not overturn the ban given "the kind of things George Galloway advocates."
Kenney has said in the past he believed "folks that are supporting and promoting and helping terrorist organizations are not needed to visit Canada."
Jackman and co-counsel Hadayt Nazami argued Kenney's decision was biased because he was a vocal supporter of Israel and had described himself in the past as a "Catholic Zionist."
"There was no threat to national security," Nazami said.
"They decided to punish Mr. Galloway and his supporters and not let him speak because the minister did not like his views."
Government lawyers, however, said the ban was a direct result of Galloway's actions, noting the case would have turned out differently had he not chosen to make a big show out of donating money to Hamas.
Under Canadian law, collecting funds or giving support to a terrorist organization is one of the conditions of membership to such an organization, lawyer Marie-Louise Wcislo told the court.
"There was good faith behind sending that letter (advising Galloway of his likely inadmissability) so that Mr. Galloway would not be surprised when he was standing in line at Pearson (airport)," she said.
She also argued that despite the warning, Galloway had the option of showing up at a border crossing and making his case to border officials.
"He didn't give the government of Canada a chance to hear his side of the story."
The hearing was originally scheduled to begin on Monday but was postponed after Jackman suffered a foot injury before court.