A few weeks ago, George W. Bush slunk into Calgary, Alberta where he was paid a reported $50,000 to address a gathering of oil men; in Alberta, there’s no such thing as oil women even in the 21st century because the province still savours its rough-n’-ready cowboy mentality. It was his first post-presidency speech and Canadians weren’t happy about it.
In fact, so many protesters showed up at the auditorium that Bush had to be squirreled through a maze of tunnels and back alleys to get from The Pallister Hotel where he stayed the few blocks to the venue.
But protestors on the street weren’t the only group seeking to block Bush’s high-priced speech. They were joined by a group of Canadian human rights lawyers who filed suit, trying to prevent Bush from entering the country or to force the federal government to arrest him on charges of suspicion of war crimes.
Although the legal manoeuvre failed, mostly because it was filed to late, it indirectly resulted in the former president being asked by Ottawa to not return.
Three different sources in the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – an Albertan himself although he did not attend the Calgary event – confirmed to me that after the appearance, the Canadian government quietly sent word to Bush’s office in Texas saying it would be much happier if he didn’t try crossing the border again anytime soon.
In fact, the government reportedly slipped the same cautionary advice to Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld – who’s already been chased once through the streets of Paris by a French prosecutor who wanted to arrest and investigate him for car crimes – Fredo Gonzales, John Ashcroft and reportedly a few others, telling them that it would not be in their best interest to try entering Canada. Since none of the former administration officials are still protected by diplomatic immunity, they could be seized at the border like some aged former SS officer still on the lamb.
“The PM doesn’t need to be confronted by the Opposition asking why he’s letting potential war criminals into the country,” one of the three sources said in an interview this week. Because they are part of the government, none of the three was willing to be quoted by name.
Another of the three sources told me, “Even though Harper likes Bush personally, the country hates him so the PM is trying to avoid what could be an embarrassing cross-border diplomatic incident, doing something that could trigger an election or be seen by the public as coddling a possible war criminal.”
Harper’s razor thin margin of seats in Parliament means he stays in office only with the sufferance of the Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois, who will topple the government sometime in the next year when they decide the timing is right.
Under Canadian law, the Attorney General in Ottawa can investigate anyone anywhere in the world for war crimes and crimes against humanity even if a Canadian citizen is not involved. However, three Canadian citizens were swept up by Bush war crimes: Two were held at Guantanamo – one is still there – and one was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” when he was stopped at Kennedy Airport and then sent to torture chambers in Syria.
If someone suspected of war crimes tries entering the country, the law says they must be detained at the border. Under the narrowest definition of war crimes in Canadian statutes, Bush and other high-ranking members of his administration committed war crimes on at least four different occasions: When he invaded Iraq without UN approval; when his invasion resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians; when he ordered torture to be used during interrogations; and when he denied the Red Cross access to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the CIA black sites around the world.
While a significant number of people here, in the US and around the world would be positively gleeful at the sight of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld or others on a long list being clapped in irons at the border by the RCMP and hauled off to Kingston Prison while an investigation is undertaken, Ottawa has no interest in prompting a major row with Washington.
It is much easier to ask a handful of potential tourists to stay home.
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