Six different speakers were slated to speak October 25 on Canada’s Parliament Hill as a member of a panel called “Peacebuilders Without Borders. Two of the six couldn’t show up, one in jail and the other barred entry into the country.
The problems didn’t just start for peace activists Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright in late October. The first sign of trouble was in early October when they tried to cross the border at Buffalo-Niagara Falls Bridge.
When Benjamin and Ann Wright who is against the Iraq War tried to enter into Canada on October 5 they were denied access at the border. Benjamin was informed of the crime that denied her entry.
“In my case, the border guard pulled up a file showing that I had been arrested at the US Mission to the UN where, on International Women’s Day, a group of us had tried to deliver a peace petition signed by 152,000 women around the world,” says Benjamin. “For this, the Canadians labeled me a criminal and refused to allow me in the country.”
They do have a slew of arrests between them, all are for non- violent war protests. The pair had been on route to Toronto Stop the War Coalition to protest the Iraq War.
“These are not terrorists; why do we have to protect Canadians from them?” said Ms. Olivia Chow, who represents the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina. “We should not be allowing the FBI or Mr. Bush to dictate our entry policy.”
So what happened this time though? Both Benjamin and Rice have been in and out of Canada with no problems in the past. This time though the pair have been added to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database. Their combined crimes have always been misdemeanours which generally would not get them on the NCIC. The pair have travel all over the world speaking out against war.
“The FBI’s placing of peace activists on an international criminal database is blatant political intimidation of US citizens opposed to Bush administration policies,” says Colonel Wright, who was also Deputy US Ambassador in four countries. “The Canadian government should certainly not accept this FBI database as the criteria for entering the country.”
“This is outrageous. I’m appealing to Canadians not to treat peaceful activists like common criminals,” Ms. Benjamin said.
“I travel all over the world on a regular basis and Canada is the first country to use the NCIC to keep out people like us,” said the veteran activist and founding director of Global Exchange, an international social justice movement.
Medea Benjamin may not be able to come to Canada for a year. She was slated to speak on October 25 on Parliament Hill as one of six members of a panel called “Peacebuilders Without Borders: Challenging the Post-9/11 Canada-US Security Agenda.” On October 24 Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink Women for Peace and Global Exchange, was arrested for the crime of holding up two fingers in the form of a peace sign during the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified on Iraq, Iran and Israel-Palestinian issues.
The House hearing started with Codepink member Desiree Fairooz holding up red painted hands to Rice and shouting, “The blood of millions of Iraqis is on your hands.” Capital police were right on that, promptly removing her from the House. Shortly after that two other Codepink members were arrested just for being in the room. An hour after those two arrests Medea and a male Codepinker were arrested for no reason. Four of the five remained in jail overnight, Medea being one of those. She missed the trip to Ottawa because of it.
Ann Wright though was on her way to speak. She had her invitation from Ottawa. Being as she was one of the speakers, there shouldn’t be a problem this time to get across the border. Right? Wrong. The letter from Parliament didn’t mean diddly to Immigration Services. After four hours of of interrogation she has been banned for one year and sent back on the first flight to Washington D.C. She also has to do the following:
The officer said that to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) for entry for a specific event on a specific date, I must provide to a Canadian Embassy or consulate the arresting officer’s report, court transcripts and court documents for each of the convictions and an official document describing the termination of sentences, a police certificate issued within the last three months by the FBI, police certificates from places I have lived in the past ten years (that includes Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia), a letter acknowledging my convictions from three respected members of the community (the respected members that I will ask to write a letter all been convicted of similar “offenses”) and a completed 18 page “criminal rehabilitation” packet.
That by the way is the standard procudere for those denied entry. It takes several months for it to be completely processed.