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Can Canada Really Be Scared of Free-Thinking?

It's a question I have to ask after being denied entry again – this time, ironically, to give a paper on academics and public debate


Bill AyersWilliam ('Bill') Ayers in Chicago's Grant Park, in 2001. Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground, spent 10 years as a fugitive, a story he told in his book Fugitive Days. The former university professor has again been barred entry from Canada, where he had been invited to give a conference paper. (AP Photo/Ted S Warren)

In January this year, I was invited by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) to address the Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education to be held on 16 June 2011 in Toronto. The topic would be "The responsibility of academics to contribute to public debates in the media."

I told the organizers then that while I would love to attend, I had been denied entry into Canada twice in the past few years – once in Calgary, and later at Island Airport – and that while lawyers on both sides of the border were engaging the issue, we were being met again and again by bureaucratic gibberish and classic rule-by-no-one. The president of OCUFA sent a letter to the Canada Border Services Agency hoping to resolve the matter, and received a boiler-plate response: "The CBSA is charged to ensure the security and prosperity of Canada by managing access of people and goods." I explained that my participation in the conference would jeopardize neither, and promised to spend a lot of money while in town, but I got the same response.

I'm in Chicago today, and a video of my talk has been sent to the conference. One irony in this situation is that the injured party in all of this is not me primarily, but the people who, for whatever reason, wanted to engage me in conversation. After all, I will talk to myself all day, and probably disagree and argue with myself as usual. But what of the Canadians who thought it might be useful to have a dialogue? Tough luck: your government is vigilantly watching over your security and prosperity.

Read on...


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