The two noisy demonstrations that faced off against each other on a downtown Toronto street Monday underlined the intense feelings focused on George Galloway, the iconoclastic British MP who was prevented from coming to Canada last year for a speaking tour.
About four dozen protesters, who wanted the court to quash the government decision that kept Mr. Galloway out of Canada, chanted "Defend free speech!" as they lined the sidewalk in front of the office building where the Federal Court of Canada sits.
A few feet away, another two dozen people brought in by the Jewish Defence League of Canada waved Israeli flags and tried to shout the others down with cries of "No support for terrorism!"
Inside the court, the hearing in front of Mr. Justice Richard Mosley was postponed until Wednesday, because one of the lawyers, Barbara Jackman, had injured her foot in an early-morning fall and wanted to have it checked out in hospital.
But the delay has not cooled the ardour of Mr. Galloway's supporters and detractors, who see the case as a key test of several important principles, including Charter protection for free speech and the interpretation of portions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that prevent visits by members of terrorist organizations.
The affair began last March, when Mr. Galloway was warned off by the Conservative government after he was invited by activist groups to come to Canada to make a number of appearances. He was told he would not be allowed into Canada because Ottawa had determined that he was a member of a terrorist organization, Hamas. The decision was based on Mr. Galloway's participation in a convoy of humanitarian aid he helped deliver to Palestinians in Gaza, handing it over to elected Hamas officials.
Court documents suggest that the decision to prevent Mr. Galloway from entering Canada was triggered by political aides, then pushed along by government officials.
"That demonstrates political interference at the highest levels," said James Clark of the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, one of the parties to the case and an organizer of Monday's pro-Galloway rally.
He said interpreting Mr. Galloway's delivery of aid to Palestinians in Gaza as membership in a terrorist organization is "a perverse interpretation of that law."
Those on the other side of the issue are equally vehement. Meir Weinstein, national director for Canada of the Jewish Defence League, said Mr. Galloway raised funds for Hamas, and that means he "encouraged the material support [of a]terrorist organization."
Mr. Weinstein challenged arguments of Mr. Galloway's supporters, asserting that "this is not a free speech issue at all."
"This is an issue involving criminal activity - the raising of funds for terrorist organizations that are banned in Canada." The country must take a stand against those organizations, he said, "because if you don't, terrorism is going to spread within our borders."
The case has drawn the interest of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which is backing the pro-Galloway forces. The CCLA says that in this case the government has taken far too broad an interpretation of the term "membership" in a terrorist organization. And banning an invited speaker can infringe the Charter, which protects the right to receive information, the CCLA said.Report Typo/Error