U.S. Peace Activists Denied Access Into Canada
Thursday, October 4th 2007, 8:06 am
News On 6
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) _ Peace activists Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright have been arrested in the U.S. while protesting the Iraq war, but they never dreamed that would prevent them from entering Canada.
The arrests landed Benjamin's and Wright's names in an FBI-run database, the National Crime Information Center, which Canada also relies on to screen visitors. When the two women visited the country in August, they were told they would have to apply for ``criminal rehabilitation'' and pay $200 if they wanted to visit again. Neither did.
On Wednesday, Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, and Wright, a retired Army colonel, walked into Canada at Niagara Falls to test whether they really would be denied entry because of their anti-war-related arrests.
Now, Benjamin and Wright are asking why the names of people arrested during peaceful protests would be included in an FBI-maintained database meant to track fugitives, potential terrorists, missing persons and violent felons.
``We are certainly no threat to the Canadian people,'' Benjamin said.
Benjamin said she and Wright, who resigned as a senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia in 2003, planned to protest at the Canadian embassy in Washington on Thursday and to ask the FBI to remove the protest charges from the NCIC database.
The protesters believe the inclusion of activists' names in the database is a form of political intimidation of people opposed to Bush administration policies.
FBI spokesman Paul Moskal said that while the FBI maintains the database, the data is supplied by arresting agencies and others.
John Curr III, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union in Buffalo, said that by relying on the database to screen visitors, Canada is participating in the administration's suppression of free speech.
``The Canadians accepted wholesale once you're on the list, you don't get into Canada,'' Wright said shortly before walking across the Rainbow Bridge into Ontario. She and Benjamin spent 2 1/2 hours in the customs inspection area before being sent back to the United States.
Derek Mellon, a spokesman with the Canada Border Services Agency, said he was unable to comment on Wright and Benjamin specifically, but said all foreign visitors must meet longstanding admissibility requirements, such as having valid travel documents and a clean criminal record.
Canada generally refuses entry to anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense, regardless of the nature of it, he said. Those with convictions, however, may apply to be rehabilitated, which involves filing paperwork and paying a processing fee ranging from $200 to $1,000.
``We welcome millions of American visitors every year,'' he said.