Bush in B.C.: Canada Hosts a War Criminal
by James Corbett
October 25, 2011
Human rights groups, civil rights campaigners and concerned citizens united in their condemnation of the visit of former US President George W. Bush to Canada this week for a speaking engagement in Surrey, B.C.
Bush’s visit rekindled debates among Canadians about their government’s willingness to host an unconvicted war criminal who is guilty of authorizing torture in contravention of numerous international treaties and the laws of his own country.
Preparations for the visit have been underway for weeks, with Amnesty International sending a memorandum to the Canadian government in September outlining the grounds for arresting and prosecuting Bush for war crimes, and the Canadian group Lawyers Against the War having drafted a similar document for the Prime Minister back in August when the engagement was first announced.
The Lawyers Against the War document cites Bush’s aiding and abetting of torture at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other locations as the legal basis for refusing him entry to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada.
As evidence of that torture, the memo cites a 2006 UN report, a 2007 Council of Europe report, a 2008 US Senate Armed Services Committee report, the testimony of UN Special Rapporteurs Manfred Nowak and Martin Scheinin, a 2009 admission by Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush’s own 2010 memoirs, in which he admitted to authorizing torture techniques such as waterboarding.
Perhaps the most blatant admission of torture came from Bush’s own mouth in November of 2010, when The Times of London asked whether the use of waterboarding by his administration had been justified. “Damn right!” Bush replied. “Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives.”
Despite the copious evidence, testimony, and even first-hand admissions that the Bush regime was guilty of war crimes, however, Bush’s speech went ahead as scheduled. The event was well-attended by protesters demonstrating their unhappiness with the Canadian government’s decision to allow Bush into the country.
This was in fact not President Bush’s first visit to Canada since leaving office.
Earlier this month, Vancouver also played host to Bush’s former Vice President, Dick Cheney, who was greeted by an even more raucous group of protesters.
In 2009, Bush made his first trip abroad after departing the White House to deliver a speech at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary, Alberta. There, too, his visit was mired in controversy, with Lawyers Against the War and other groups calling at that time for Bush to be banned from entering the country or arrested for his involvement in war crimes.
The Calgary speech was likewise the scene of vigorous protests, with one protester, Splitting The Sky, being wrestled to the ground and arrested when trying to enter the venue to commit a citizens’ arrest of Bush.
I had the chance to interview Splitting The Sky earlier this week about these attempts to bring George W. Bush to justice and what the failure of the government of Canada’s failure to act says about Canada’s role in international relations.
Bush has had to be careful about his overseas travel since leaving office, as numerous countries have indicated that they would be unable or unwilling to shield him from war crimes charges when visiting their country. Earlier this year, a planned Bush trip to Switzerland to attend a gala for a Jewish charity was called off when a mass campaign by human rights groups put mounting pressure on Swiss authorities to arrest him during his trip.
This gives Canada the dubious distinction of being one of the few countries willing to host a visit by an acknowledged war criminal.
Now, concerned citizens are seeking answers from their elected officials about how an admitted torturer and war criminal would be allowed into the country to deliver a $150,000 address.
When asked to justify her part in allowing the Bush speech to proceed, Surrey councillor Judy Villeneuve had this to say:
It is unclear, however, how freedom of speech can be invoked as a defense from prosecution of war crimes.
For now, the Canadian government continues to act on its own arbitrary set of rules for allowing or denying people into the country, apparently happy to side with an admitted torturer and war criminal against the wishes of the vast majority of the citizens.
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