VFP Board Member Ann Wright Barred Again From Canada
Stopped En Route To Meeting with Canadian MPs
By Chris Driscoll, VFP Web Editor
Voters for Peace Project Board member Col. Ann Wright (Ret.-U.S. Army) was detained by Canadian customs officials at Ottawa International Airport Thursday while en route to meet with members of Parliament, according to reports from �The Canadian Press� and �Associated Press� news agencies. Col. Wright had been invited by MPs to participate in a forum addressing post 9-11 civil liberties violations titled �Peacemakers Without Borders.� This is the second time in less than a month Col. Wright has been stopped by Canadian officials on her way to peace movement events.
Medea Benjamin, the founder of Code Pink, a nationwide women�s peace organization, was also invited to speak to the MPs, but was arrested and jailed Wednesday in Washington during Congressional hearings in which another Code Pink member, Desiree Fairooz, with blood covering her hands and a taunt of �war criminal,� confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Benjamin and Col. Wright were turned away by Canadian border officials in Niagara Falls, Ont. Oct. 3. According to official statements from the government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the two are being barred from entering the country because their names appear in an FBI crime database. The list is supposed to include only those convicted of serious crimes, however the two women have only ever been arrested for protest-related misdemeanors with fines of $200 or less, and they are demanding that the FBI remove their names from the database.
According to a Code Pink press release, the organization �collected 20,000 signatures from outraged US and Canadian citizens� on a petition presented on Tuesday at Canadian Consulates in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago to ask the Canadian government to reverse its policy of barring peaceful protesters.
Col. Wright and Ms. Benjamin�s case has received wide publicity in Canada and internationally, eliciting public demands that the Harper government repudiate the FBI list and allow the two women�and other American peace advocates�to enter the country. In a letter of protest to PM Harper over the first border incident, the leadership of the social-democratic New Democratic Party asked: �. . .under Canada�s current policy, would Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. be blocked at the Canadian border, because they constituted threats to our national security?� Both Ms. Parks and Rev. King were arrested in protest-related acts of civil disobedience similar to the arrests of Col. Wright and Ms. Benjamin.
The NDP letter goes on to state: �New Democrats are deeply concerned that Canadian border police are enforcing rules determined not by our own Canadian government, but by the FBI and other US security agencies. Foreign government �watch lists� should not form the basis for automatically denying entry into Canada of US citizens, or any other nationals. Government policies, not the individuals who oppose them, often present the greater threat to democracy, security and freedom.�
Col. Wright is the Chairwoman of Veterans for Peace. She had an impressive 29-year career in the U.S. military and also served in the Foreign Service from 1987 to 2003 when she resigned in protest over the Iraq War. She served as Deputy Chief of Mission of US Embassies in Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Afghanistan. She received the State Department's Award for Heroism for her actions during the evacuation of 2,500 persons from the civil war in Sierra Leone, the largest evacuation since Saigon in 1974.
NDP MP Alexa McDonough, who is a past NDP nominee for Prime Minister and was head of the party from 1995 to 2003, held a press conference Thursday to condemn the government interference with Wright�s participation in the civil liberties forum. Addressing the news media outside the airport after Col. Wright failed to emerge from customs, MP McDonough asked the Harper government to stop arbitrarily using watch lists as a substitute for clear border policy.
According to �The Canadian Press,� MP McDonough said political protest is "a time-honored tradition" in Canada. �It seems completely absurd for Canada to turn around and say that we will adopt the FBI interpretation of events. I've heard from a great many Canadians how distressed they are that this is another worrisome example of the increasing integration of Canada and U.S. policies.� She accused PM Harper and his Conservative government of blurring the lines between the Unites States and Canada, calling it a surrender of sovereignty "that is really taking away from us who we want to be in today's world, and I think totally tarnishing the reputation of Canada.�