Standing on stage, in front of hundreds of rowdy supporters, defiant former British MP George Galloway donned a pair of winter mitts, stood in a boxer's pose and threw down the gauntlet to his nemesis: Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
In his first public appearance Sunday since being barred from entering Canada, the politician and outspoken supporter of the Palestinian people used the first half of his speech to condemn Mr. Kenney for branding him a terrorist, and called on the minister to resign.
"I was a boxer in my youth. Maybe Mr. Kenney would like to go five rounds with me," Mr. Galloway said in a speech in Toronto. "Jason Kenney, I'm challenging you to a public debate." He said he would be prepared to stand outside Mr. Kenney's constituency office in Calgary until he gets one.
Federal officials told Mr. Galloway last year that he would not be welcomed into the country because of the alleged financial support he provided to Hamas, which Canada considers a terrorist organization. But a Federal Court judge recently determined that Ottawa's decision to stop Mr. Galloway from speaking was politically motivated and done so to suppress his opinions.
The outspoken politician, never one to shy away from the spotlight, vowed to sue Mr. Kenney for slandering him. He pledged to put any money he wins from the lawsuit toward building an anti-war movement in Canada.
Mr. Kenney's office did not comment.
The barring of Mr. Galloway last year provoked fervent responses from his detractors and supporters, who saw the case as a key test of free speech and also of how Canada handles visits by those it says support terrorist organizations. Mr. Galloway has denied that he is a supporter of Hamas, saying instead that he has delivered humanitarian goods to war-torn Gaza.
Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which acted as an intervenor in Mr. Galloway's case, said the Canadian government should never have prevented the former MP from doing his speaking tour.
"People overseas would be surprised to hear that this kind of activity is happening. I certainly think our friends in the United States would be surprised to hear that Canada is trying to suppress speech on these political grounds," Ms. Zwibel said. "I think it calls into question our credentials as a liberal democracy that respects people's fundamental rights and freedoms."
But Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that when a speaker like Mr. Galloway, known for his "antics and silliness," comes to deliver a message, nobody wins.
"We have always stated that Galloway can come to Canada as long as he doesn't violate Canadian law. Our concern was, and it was a legitimate concern given his history, that he would be coming to this country to raise money for Hamas," Mr. Farber said.
"I think Jason Kenney did very much the right thing when he pointed the finger and said here is a man whom we know has raised money for terrorist causes and that is a concern. I hope that the magnifying glass would be more on that than anything else."
Mr. Galloway said in an interview that he wasn't raising money for anybody by doing Sunday's speech in Toronto.
Hundreds of supporters lined up outside a downtown Toronto church to hear him. He received a standing ovation as he walked in. Through his speech, the crowd chanted slogans, applauded and, at times, drowned out his forceful voice.
Mr. Galloway said he plans to be back in November to do a speaking tour in as many as 10 cities in Canada.Report Typo/Error