Saturday, June 14, 2008

Border Opens to Anti-War Activists

There has been a new development in the saga of anti-war activists Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright.

As you may recall, over the past year they have been turned away at our border time and time again because prior non-violent protest-related arrests had placed them on the FBI’s National Crime Information Database. In its efforts to 'harmonize' our border security with the U.S., Canadian Border Services has been using this list even though it has been roundly criticized for including misdemeanour offenders like Benjamin and Wright in a database that was originally intended to keep violent felons, parole violators, gang members and sex offenders from crossing the border.

It's too soon to tell, but this policy may be changing. Wright tells what happened when they tried another crossing on June 1st - this time with an MP in the back seat:

On June 1, Canadian parliamentarian Libby Davies, drove to the US side of the border and rode in the same van as Medea and I. Diane went ahead in a different car and was not stopped by immigration despite her numerous arrests. Parliamentarian Davies told the immigration officers that she had knowledge of our peaceful, non-violent protests of Bush administration policies and vouched for our character.

During three hours at the border, immigration officers made phone calls to various offices. At the end of the process, Medea was given a 24 hour visitors permit and I received an exception to my earlier exclusion order, apparently from a high official in the Ministry of Immigration.

The next day, June 2, Veterans for Peace (VFP) national president Elliot Adams and VFP member Will Cover, drove from New York to Ottawa to observe the vote of the Canadian parliament on the non-binding resolution that would allow US war resisters to stay in Canada. After being asked at the border crossing if either had ever been arrested, they both acknowledged that they had been arrested for protesting Bush policies on the war in Iraq. They were further questioned in secondary screening about the character of the protests and arrests, and after two hours, were allowed to continue into Canada. They drove on to Ottawa and attended the 137to 110 Parliamentary non-binding vote to permit US war resisters to remain in Canada.

The border crossing by two groups of high profile anti-war activists with arrest records in a two day period, both dealing with the issue of US war resisters in Canada, may indicate a change in the position of the Canadian immigration service on misdemeanor arrests for political protest in the United States.

We hope so, as we pose no threat to Canadian security and indeed our actions in the United States for which we were arrested seem to reflect the views of most Canadians that the war in Iraq should end and that US war resisters should be able to stay in their country.

It remains to be seen whether this is an actual policy change and not just the result of direct intervention in these specific cases, but all in all it sounds like good news.

(crossposted from Canada's World)

1 comment:

  1. We heard about this on our way up to Ottawa for the vote on the war resisters! We heard Libby Davies was with them, but I never heard the outcome... then with all the war resister stuff, I forgot all about it.

    Thanks so much for posting!