Ayers denied entry to Canada
Globe and Mail Update
January 19, 2009 at 6:11 PM EST
An American academic and former 1960s radical accused by U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin of being a “terrorist” friend of Barack Obama's has been denied entry into Canada to speak at an education conference.
William Ayers, a distinguished education professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he was perplexed and disappointed when the Canada Border Services Agency declared him inadmissible at the Toronto City Centre Airport on Sunday evening.
He said he has travelled to Canada more than a dozen times in the past.
“It seems very arbitrary,” he said. “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969. I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”
Mr. Ayers, 64, was thrust into the global spotlight during the Democratic primaries last spring, when Hillary Clinton questioned Mr. Obama's association with him. In the fall, during the general election campaign, Ms. Palin told a Republican rally that Mr. Obama was “palling around with terrorists,” meaning Mr. Ayers.
The educator was a co-founder of the Weather Underground, a group that planted bombs on government property, including New York City police headquarters in 1970, the U.S. Capitol building the following year and the Pentagon in 1972.
In 1970, three group members, including Mr. Ayers's girlfriend, died when a nail bomb they were assembling went off. Mr. Ayers, the son of a wealthy Chicago philanthropist, went into hiding and resurfaced a decade later. The charges against him were eventually dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct, and he went on to refashion his life as an author and lecturer.
Mr. Ayers said Mr. Obama would have been a young child during his activist years, and that he met the president-elect long after his time as a Weatherman. They served together on the board of a charity in the 1990s and were neighbours in Chicago. “I think most people rejected that dishonest narrative about me, and of guilt by association,” Mr. Ayers said.
Anna Pape, a CBSA spokeswoman, said she cannot comment on the Ayers case. People may be denied entry into Canada for reasons of criminality, human-rights violations, security or health, she said.
Jeffrey Kugler, executive director of the Centre for Urban Schooling at the University of Toronto, called the refusal to allow the professor into the country a violation of academic freedom. His organization, which invited him to speak on the University of Toronto campus, had to move the event to a larger facility after an outpouring of interest in the wake of a Globe and Mail story last week.
“There is no one who could have thought it possible there was any danger to Canadians to letting him in,” Mr. Kugler said.
Mr. Ayers had planned to speak about education reform and to reference both the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King yesterday and the importance of Mr. Obama's inauguration today.
Paul Copeland, his lawyer, called the decision of the CBSA “arbitrary,” and said the agency could have issued Mr. Ayers a temporary resident permit.
Mr. Ayers said Canadian authorities denied him entry on one other occasion, in 2005, but that otherwise he has never had trouble entering the country. He also travels to China, Taiwan and the United Kingdom giving lectures on education and has written several books, including Fugitive Days and Race Course.
In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, Mr. Ayers acknowledged that the Weather Underground “crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even common sense.”
“Peaceful protests had failed to stop the [Vietnam] war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism,” he wrote.
Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer, suggested CBSA officers may have been “overly zealous,” noting that Mr. Ayers is not a member of an active radical group. “They always have discretion and in this case, considering the facts, may have needed to exercise better judgment.”