Peace Activists to Retest Border Policy
NEW YORK - Two peace activists who were denied entry into Canada because their arrests for protesting the Iraq war landed them on an FBI-run database say they will try again to enter the country on Thursday.
The activists and their supporters presented petitions Tuesday at Canadian consulates in several U.S. cities, demanding that Canada reverse what they say is a policy that keeps foes of the Iraq war from visiting.
"The Bush administration has convinced the Canadian government to do its dirty work, to deny entry to people who are dissenting against Bush administration policies," said Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and diplomat who was turned back at the border along with Medea Benjamin of the anti-war group Code Pink.
Wright gave petitions that she said were signed by 15,000 people to an official at the Canadian consulate in New York. Activists left copies of the petitions at Canadian consulates in Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Wright and Benjamin learned when they tried to visit Canada in August that their names were in an FBI-maintained database meant to track fugitives, potential terrorists, missing persons and violent felons. They were told they would have to apply for "criminal rehabilitation" and pay $200 if they ever wanted to visit again.
The women walked into Canada at Niagara Falls on Oct. 3 to test whether they really would be denied entry and were turned back.
Wright, who has traveled to Canada twice in recent years without incident, said the policy appears to be new.
But Derek Mellon, a spokesman with the Canada Border Services Agency, said the requirements have not changed.
"Admissibility of travelers seeking to enter Canada is considered on a case-by-case basis on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case," he said. "Several factors are used in determining admissibility into Canada, including involvement in criminal activity, in human rights violations, in organized crime, security, health or financial reasons."
Mellon said he could not comment on individual cases.
Wright, who resigned as a senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia in 2003, said she and Benjamin were arrested on misdemeanor charges stemming from anti-war activities.
"It's not like any of these are felonies," she said. "These are all peaceful, nonviolent protests and now we find ourselves unable to enter Canada because of it."
Wright said she and Benjamin planned to fly to Ottowa on Thursday at the invitation of several members of Parliament.
Darren Brunk, a spokesman for Alexa McDonough, a member of Parliament representing Halifax, Nova Scotia, said McDonough and five other members of Parliament from Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday advising him that they had invited the activists.
"We trust that you will ensure unimpeded entry into Canada, to enable Ms. Benjamin and Col. Wright to share their message of peace with Members of Parliament, and the broader community," they wrote.
Brunk said the lawmakers planned to meet the women at the airport.
Paul Copeland, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, said there are no criminal trespass provisions in Canada's criminal code that are equivalent to a trespass misdemeanor in the U.S. "There's no basis to keep them out," he said.
Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared his homeland "a refuge from militarism" during the Vietnam War and allowed 30,000 to 50,000 American draft resisters to settle there. But the Canadian government has denied political asylum to U.S. soldiers who sought it after deserting from duty in Iraq.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
© 2007 The Associated Press