How George Galloway was barred from Canada in less than 2 hours

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

British MP George Galloway says he didn't give money to Hamas, but rather to the ministry of health in Gaza to cover the salaries of doctors and nurses who hadn't been paid. (Jas Lehal/Jas Lehal/Reuters)

It took less than two hours for Canadian Border Services Agency officials to declare controversial British MP George Galloway inadmissible to Canada. There was little doubt that’s what Immigration Minister Jason Kenney wanted.

Though last year’s decision to bar Mr. Galloway from Canada for allegedly supporting banned Mideast group Hamas fuelled headlines for weeks and a court case that will be heard on Monday, it was a decision that was pushed through the bureaucracy at record speed.

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From the first e-mail that Mr. Kenney’s communications director, Alykhan Velshi, sent on March 16, 2009, at 2:09 p.m. to immigration bureaucrats – the subject line was “inadmissible” – only 102 minutes passed before an official in the National Security section of the CBSA had agreed that Mr. Galloway should be barred for being a member of a terrorist organization.

Monday’s arguments in a legal case contesting the government move will raise a host of crucial questions for Canada’s immigration system. Mr. Galloway insists he was never a member of Hamas, and he’s being barred for his political and pro-Palestinian views.

But the court record has already revealed much about how the Galloway affair began: not in routine work by security officials, but because it was triggered by political aides, then pushed quickly by high-ranking officials, and approved by the Prime Minister’s Office.

A year ago, Mr. Kenney insisted it was a CBSA decision, and portrayed it as one that came up through the channels of bureaucrats. That’s not what an immigration officer in London told Mr. Galloway’s assistant, Kevin Ovenden, according to records the government filed with the court this week.

“I stated that Mr. Galloway has been deemed inadmissible by Canada’s immigration minister, Jason Kenney, and that he [Mr. Galloway]would be denied entry at a Canadian port of entry,” Robert Orr, the Immigration official in London, wrote in an e-mail to Canada’s High Commissioner to Britain, James Wright.

It was Mr. Kenney’s communications’ aide, Mr. Velshi, who set the wheels in motion a few days before, on March 16.

He sent an e-mail at 2:09 p.m. to the Immigration Department’s director-general of communications, Edison Stewart, saying he had a media call asking “why we’re letting in the following person even though he’s publicly called for money to go to a banned terrorist entity in Canada [Hamas]and that makes him inadmissible.”

Mr. Velshi sent along copies of articles quoting Mr. Galloway’s articles, as Mr. Stewart forwarded the case to senior officials including Stéphane Larue, the director-general of the Immigration Department’s case-management branch, who said he would ask CBSA to do a “very quick inadmissibility assessment.” Mr. Velshi chimed in that if it came up to Mr. Kenney, “I can fairly predict that he will not ever give a [entry permit]to someone who advocated the kind of things George Galloway advocates.”

Mr. Larue’s staff forwarded those remarks to CBSA officials and asked for a quick assessment of Mr. Galloway. By 3:51 p.m., a CBSA official had concluded from “open-source material” that Mr. Galloway was inadmissible for being a member of a terrorist organization.

Immigration department officials still pressured CBSA officials to put a formal assessment in writing first thing the next morning – but were told they’d have to wait for it to be written.

Two days later, on March 18, Mr. Velshi asked Canada’s High Commission in London for phone numbers of political editors for British newspapers. On March 20, The Sun published an “exclusive” – that George Galloway had been barred from Canada.

Mr. Velshi insisted last week that he did not leak the story: “No. Absolutely not. In fact, as the record indicates, they contacted me,” he said.

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