TORONTO - A defiant George Galloway took direct aim at Canada's immigration minister in a speech Monday night for being branded a terrorism supporter and being denied entry to the country.
"Come out and debate me like a man, Jason Kenney," Galloway said in a speech broadcast from New York.
"Let's book the biggest hall in Canada and you and I will debate these issues of war and peace, of freedom of speech and censorship and you won't be able to hide behind your spokesman."
The Canada Border Services Agency advised Galloway, in a letter dated March 20, that he had been deemed inadmissible to Canada on the grounds he allegedly engaged in terrorist activities.
The MP has denied such links although he has openly voiced support for the Palestinian cause, delivered financial aid to Gaza and gave $45,000 to the head of Hamas, a banned terrorist organization in Canada.
In a speech brimming with statements spewed directly at Kenney, Galloway said it was "poetic justice" that Kenney's attempt to silence him backfired so wholeheartedly.
"People all around the world watching this live are going to learn what you tried to stop me (from) saying," Galloway said.
The hour-long speech focused on Afghanistan, Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and Kenney and the Canadian government.
Organizers also said the publicity surrounding the decision to keep Galloway out of Canada appeared to help boost support and ticket sales.
"Thank you, Mr. Kenney, for helping to promote our cause," organizer James Clark said in front of the crowd of hundreds at a church in downtown Toronto.
Clark said because of the interest generated by the controversy, halls were rented in 20 cities across the country for people to watch the broadcast of the speech, as well as in Greece and the U.S.
In Toronto, Candace Livingstone, 40, said she only bought her ticket after hearing about the story on the news.
"I didn't even know (of) George Galloway until all this came about," she said before the speech.
"I thought, 'Wow, I can't believe this is happening in Canada."'
Galloway will also make speeches via video to crowds in Mississauga, Ont., Ottawa and Montreal in the coming days.
A Federal Court decision Monday upheld the ban on Galloway after Galloway supporters asked court on Sunday for an emergency injunction allowing him to come, pending the possibility of a judicial review of the government's position.
However, Justice Luc Martineau ruled Monday he was not in a position to allow Galloway into the country although he did say there were "serious issues to be tried" if the judicial review occurs.
"The arguments raised by the applicants are not frivolous or vexatious," Martineau ruled. "However, a proper factual record and the benefit of full legal argument . . . are lacking at the present time."
The decision represented a "partial victory" in that the court did recognize there was a serious issue at stake, Clark said.
"We want to pursue and examine all the questions that have come up about how and why the (border agency) peremptorily issued this ruling of inadmissibility to Mr. Galloway," Clark said.
During his speech Galloway vigorously denied any suggestion he is a terrorist, saying he gave money and aid to help the people of Gaza, not for terrorism.
"I am not a supporter of Hamas," he said. "But I am a supporter of democracy."
Galloway's supporters say he gave money to the head of the government in Gaza but not to the head of Hamas, even though they are the same person.
Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber said the fact Galloway would still broadcast what he had to say showed that free speech was not at stake.
In a release, the congress said Canadians understand that "fundraising for international terrorism puts us all at risk here at home."
"Canada must not be regarded as a piggybank for international terrorist financiers like George Galloway," the release stated.
Clark called the suggestion that Galloway was soliciting Canadian donations to support terrorism "absurd."
The money raised by the events will go toward organizing them, logistics for the video feeds for Galloway, and a possible legal challenge, Clark said.
"Beyond that, we are unapologetic if we do decide to fundraise for the people of Gaza," he said.
"It's not illegal in this country or around the world to raise funds for humanitarian relief."
About 500 people filled a downtown church for the broadcast of the speech Monday. Tickets were $15 with a discount for students and seniors.
The government, in its letter to Galloway, did not make the allegation that he was coming to Canada to raise funds for terrorism.
Galloway wrapped up his speech chastizing the Canadian government for its positions on the Middle East and for its mission in Afghanistan.
"I love your country and what it used to stand for," Galloway said. "Canada used to stand for something in the world - for peace."
The British legislator is no stranger to controversy.
In 2007, the British Parliament's lower house suspended him based on accusations he concealed his financial dealings with deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government.
Galloway was suspended for 18 days following an investigation which found that a charity he set up was partly funded by the now-executed Iraqi dictator.
He accused his opponents of hypocrisy, saying none of the political parties in the House had ever asked people who gave them money where it came from.
In 2005, Galloway created a spectacle on Capitol Hill by denouncing U.S. senators while voluntarily testifying under oath before the committee. He called the panel of senators a "lickspittle Republican committee" and accused them of "the mother of all smoke screens."
After he was expelled from the Labour party for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq, Galloway formed his own party, Respect, and won re-election to the Commons in 2005.