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The Toronto Star

Calgary Welcome Assured for Bush

Activist group failed to arrange war-crimes charges

Petti Fong

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) jokes about US president George W. Bush's height prior to dinner in New Orleans, in April, 2008. President Barack Obama will visit Canada Thursday, on his first trip overseas since being inaugurated last month, with economic concerns expected to top his agenda. (AFP/File/Saul Loeb)

VANCOVUER - When George W. Bush arrives in Calgary today to talk to 1,500 members of the city's business elite in his first paid speech since leaving office, he'll face a friendly crowd of admirers inside while protesters are hurling abuse at him outside.

What the 43rd U.S. president won't have to face during his short visit here this week is an indictment for war crimes.

"There's no possibility right now to serve him with any papers," said Gail Davidson, a Vancouver lawyer with the international group Lawyers Against the War. "We will next time or the time after that."

The activist group tried to get the federal government to bar Bush's entry, on the basis that he is "inadmissible by virtue of the fact that he has been accused of participating in international crimes." Davidson also wants the RCMP to investigate Bush for human-rights violations.

For years, activist groups such as Lawyers Against the War have tried to have Bush charged with war crimes over alleged violations of the human rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, as well as the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Presidential expert Bert Rockman, who edited a book about the president, said while it's clear there were violations of constitutional and statutory laws during Bush's two terms, it is unlikely charges will be pursued against him.


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"The current administration has no interest in pursuing that particular avenue," said Rockman, head of the political science department at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

"The feeling now is, let the past be the past."

But Rockman said momentum for such charges could build, especially if there is growing dissatisfaction about Bush's role in the economic global downfall or concerns about leaving unchallenged assumptions about presidential power.

Christopher Sands, a senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and expert on Canadian-U.S. affairs, said no matter where Bush goes protesters will continue to dog him, but: "He has a very balanced sense of himself. He's not going to freak out about protesters and has shown he has a good sense of humour about people protesting against him."

On his last visit to Canada, four years ago, Bush dryly thanked those Canadians who'd waved to him "with all five fingers" after thousands showed up to protest his arrival on Parliament Hill.

Only invited guests were given the opportunity to buy tickets to the Calgary event. Organizer Christian Darbyshire refused to tell reporters the price. But at least one ticket was being re-offered online for $650, or the best offer.

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