Geert Wilders

Why is National Arts Centre hosting Dutch MP accused of being anti-Islam?

Ottawa — Special to The Globe and Mail

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders looks on in court during his trial for alleged hate speech in Amsterdam on Feb. 14, 2011. (POOL/REUTERS)

The federally-funded National Arts Centre was surprised to learn it was hosting a talk by a Dutch politician facing charges of inciting hatred for making anti-Islamic statements in his own country.

Geert Wilders, who is taking part in a cross-Canada speaking tour hosted by the International Free Press Society and the Canada Christian College, is infamous for his descriptions of Islam as a fascist religion, his declaration that Muslim youth are violent and his calls for a ban of the Koran.

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Mr. Wilders, the leader of Holland's Freedom Party, spoke to about 150 people at the invitation-only event at the National Arts Centre Tuesday, along with Sun News Network host Ezra Levant and two other speakers.

There was no sign of the protesters that had picketed outside his speech in Toronto the previous night.

"He arrived and he spoke, he took about four questions, then he got on a plane and went somewhere else," NAC spokeswoman Rosemary Thompson said.

Earlier in the day, she explained that the centre was unaware Mr. Wilders was going to be taking to its podium when the event was booked.

"The way this started was that the International Free Press Society called the catering department about a month ago and said that they had a Dutch MP coming to Canada for a speaking tour and that it was part of the Tulip Festival," Ms. Thompson said, stressing the centre was not sponsoring the event.

"We only realized yesterday afternoon that the speaker would be Mr. Wilders," she added. "So that's the situation that we're in."

The Canadian Tulip Festival - an annual event in Ottawa - had nothing to do with the event involving Mr. Wilders.

At a speech in Toronto on Monday, Mr. Wilders is reported to have said: "Our Western culture is far superior to Islamic culture ... and only once we are convinced of this will we be able to defend our civilization."

The National Post, which was permitted entry to the Toronto event, quoted him as saying Muslim immigrants to Europe have changed the social and political landscape and that an increasingly vociferous Islamic lobby has led to the harassment of Christians, female genital mutilation and polygamy.

The Toronto speech was held at the Canada Christian College, a private institution. The Ottawa speech was held at the arts centre, which receives nearly half of its funding from the federal government.

"Obviously the NAC does not agree with Mr. Wilders's views," Ms. Thompson said.

She pointed out that the federal Immigration Department did allow the Dutch MP, who has repeatedly compared Islam to Naziism, entry into Canada.

The same department, headed by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, was quick to refuse entry to British MP George Galloway in 2009 for allegedly supporting the banned Middle East group Hamas.

Mr. Galloway, who was eventually allowed into Canada after the courts overturned the ruling that kept him out, said the aid he brought to Palestinians was humanitarian in nature and that he did not support the banned organization.

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