Skip to main content

Rev. Terry Jones walks back to his church Friday after speaking to reporters in Gainesville, Fla.PAUL J. RICHARDS

A Florida pastor made famous by his strident anti-Islam views and widely publicized Koran immolation was barred entry into Canada Thursday because border officials had qualms about legal tussles in his past.

Terry Jones was supposed to attend a multifaith debate on the film Innocence of Muslims outside Ontario's legislature Thursday evening. Mr. Jones and Wayne Sapp, associate director of Stand Up America Now, said they were stopped at the Michigan-Ontario border and searched before being turned away.

At issue is a breach of peace charge against Mr. Sapp that he said was overturned, and a fine Mr. Jones had to pay in Germany for using the title "Doctor" from an unrecognized institution, a complaint Mr. Sapp said was successfully appealed.

"Because we don't have documentation of this, they refused us entry into the country," Mr. Sapp said Thursday afternoon. They planned to return to Florida and consider their legal options.

"The reasons that they had definitely do not hold water," Mr. Jones told Jim Richards on Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010.

Dozens of people were killed during protests in Afghanistan after Mr. Jones burned a Koran last year; many have died in recent weeks in riots spurred by the film Innocence of Muslims, which Mr. Jones promoted.

The pastor says he bears no responsibility for that violence.

"It's just part of the price you pay for freedom of speech," he said in an interview Wednesday from Michigan. "Freedom of speech is sometimes going to be controversial, it's going to be insulting sometimes."

The debate was to go forward Thursday evening with a substitute in Mr. Jones's place. Allan Einstoss, one of the debate's organizers, said the event is meant to be a statement about the importance of freedom of speech.

"The highest form of free speech is when you've got dissenting views," he said. "Democracy can be a messy thing."

Imam Steve Rockwell of Toronto's Sheikh Deedat mosque, who was to debate Mr. Jones Thursday, argues that the pastor goes too far.

"Are we, under free speech, allowed to shout 'fire' in a movie theatre?" he asked.

"It's illegal to deny the Holocaust. It should be illegal to make statements so offensive it incites a violent reaction. When you know what will be the consequences, when you deliberately provoke, there should be a law against that. Because you are posing a danger to the public."

Mr. Rockwell had planned to press the visiting pastor on just how much he knows about the Koran. "I want to hear from him what he found in the Koran that was so reprehensible, so vile, that he had to burn it."

The Canadian government said it does not comment on individual cases and that border officials determine the entry of any individual on a case by case basis.

"Every person seeking entry to Canada must demonstrate that they meet the requirements to enter the country," said Julie Carmichael, spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

With a report from The Canadian Press