On June 1, U.S. peace activist Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink women for Peace and Global Exchange, Diane Wilson, an environmental, jail reform and peace activist and I, a retired US Army Reserves Colonel and diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war, attempted to enter Canada to attend a conference in Vancouver, Canada on women war resisters.
Diane Wilson, mother of five and grandmother of five, author of “An Unreasonable Woman,” which tells about her fight against the petro-chemical companies of the South Texas coast that polluted the bay where she was a shrimper, had not been to Canada since 1970 when she went AWOL from the US Army in opposition to the Vietnam war. She stayed in Toronto, Canada for three months before returning to the United States and turning herself into the Army. She had been an Army medic and had seen the horrors of war while working at an Army hospital in Texas and decided she could not work in any way to support the Vietnam War. For her act of conscience, Diane received an undesirable discharge. Diane has been arrested numerous times for environmental issues and for anti-war actions.
I had been denied entry to Canada twice in 2007 and Medea had been denied once in 2007. Canadian immigration told us that we were ineligible to enter Canada because of our arrests (not convictions, just arrests) for peaceful, non-violent protest Washington, DC in front of the White House and the US Congress, in New York at the US mission to the United Nations and the United Nations itself, in Crawford, Texas and San Francisco, California.
We were protesting President Bush’s policies of the war in Iraq (a war that successive Canadian governments have refused to join), extraordinary rendition and torture (Canadian citizen Maher Arar was kidnapped by US government officials from JFK airport and flown to Syria where he was tortured for 9 months and to whom Canada paid $10 million for Canadian complicity in his kidnapping), illegal prisons and illegal eavesdropping, among many other crimes.
These arrests now appear on the FBI’s National Crime Information Database, a data base that was created for recording serious felonies, parole violations, gang related crimes, sex offenders. Misdemeanor violations for protest political policies are not listed as offenses to be recorded on the NCIC.
Canadian immigration has been using the NCIC data base to determine eligibility to enter Canada and has denied a number of anti-war activists entry to Canada from information contained on the data base .
Many Canadian parliamentarians have been very concerned about their immigration service using the FBI’s politically tainted data base and invited Medea and myself in October, 2007 to attend a parliamentary conference to discuss the database. Canadian Immigration at the Ottawa International Airport refused me entry to Canada despite the letter of invitation from the parliamentarians and despite their presence outside the arrivals hall at the airport. (Medea had been arrested the previous day in the US Congress and was unable to go on the trip.)
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.
The Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (CLMG) has set up an action-research clearinghouse on border controls and watch lists to investigate and document cases related to the creation of no-fly lists and other watch lists that impact on civil liberties, right to privacy and mobility rights for all travelers, including peace activists.
CLMG would like to hear from anyone who has had trouble entering Canada because of arrests for political protests in the United States. Their website, www.travelwatchlist.ca, will be active on June 18, 2008 and will have a toll-free number.
Please contact CLMG if you have had travel problems into Canada based on political activism.
Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/US Army Reserve veteran who retired as a Colonel. She was also a US diplomat for 16 years and served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March, 2003 from the US Government in opposition to the Iraq war. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”