TORONTO - Tensions over the case of a controversial British MP who was denied entry to Canada last year resurfaced Monday as protesters on both sides of the issue aired their arguments outside of Federal Court.
While the court hearing was postponed until Wednesday after his lawyer, Barbara Jackman, fractured her foot, George Galloway supporters called on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to resign over what they say was an abuse of power.
"This decision to ban George Galloway was political interference that has attempted to stifle discussion about what is happening in Gaza, what's happening in Afghanistan," said James Clark of the Defend Free Speech Campaign.
The group maintains the ban on Galloway - based on claims that he supported terrorism - was uncalled for and unconstitutional.
"This could be a precedent-setting legal case that has an impact on whether or not the minister will continue to intervene in the free speech rights of Canadians like this in the future," Clark said.
Several dozen free speech protesters were joined by a similar number from the Jewish Defence League, who waved Israeli and Canadian flags and chanted: "Don't support terrorism."
While the two sides never clashed they stood just metres apart, trying to drown out the opposing side's chants with their own.
Galloway, a rabble-rousing politician and outspoken supporter of the Palestinian people, was told in March 2009 he would not be allowed to enter Canada for a speaking tour because he had provided financial support to Hamas, a listed terrorist organization.
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.
Galloway supporters argue 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.
But Meir Weinstein, national director of the Canadian branch of the Jewish Defence League, said making the debate about free speech confuses the issue.
"This is an issue of material support for terrorist organizations that are banned in Canada," Weinstein said Monday.
"George Galloway has given funding to Hamas, he's done that in front of TV cameras in Gaza, and his purpose to come to Canada is to raise funds for Hamas."
Canadians, he said, shouldn't "give a platform for the raising of funds for Hamas in Canada."
The British MP told Toronto radio station AM640 on Monday that the ban is an "entirely bogus construction by a very right-wing and fanatically pro-Israel Canadian government."
He said it "defies common sense and logic" that he can travel widely in the U.S. and sit in the British Parliament, but cannot enter Canada. He said he plans to visit Canada if the ban is lifted.
Clark said it was absolutely ridiculous to suggest that the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza equalled terrorism, but noted the more alarming aspect of the intervention was the government's attempt to cover it up by claiming it was a matter of national security.
Court documents disclosed ahead of the hearing, Clark said, show there was big difference between Kenney's claims that he had nothing at all to do with the ban and the reality, which is that his office worked with the high-ranking officials to ensure Galloway was kept away from Canada.
The documents, Clark added, are "politically embarrassing but they have nothing to do with national security."
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."
In the House of Commons Monday, Kenney reiterated that decisions on inadmissibility are typically made by delegated officials at the Canadian Border Services Agency, and this case was no exception.
"My understanding is that the CBSA made such a preliminary assessment of inadmissibility for the person in question perhaps because he admitted publicly to handing over piles of tens of thousands of dollars to the leadership of a banned, illegal terrorist organization called Hamas that uses money to buy explosives to attack innocent civilians," Kenney said.
Galloway was to make a four-city speaking tour but had to cancel those plans after Canadian immigration officials declared him inadmissible.