Over 750 people congregated in MacEwan Hall on Tuesday to hear an impassioned speech from George Galloway, the outspoken former British politician currently embarking on a cross-Canada speaking tour. The controversial anti-war activist criticized the Canadian government and Canadian media on subjects ranging from his suspension from Canada, to the war in Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
A staunch defender of Palestine, Galloway was refused entry by the Canada Border Services Agency in 2009 after donating money to Hamas. The decision was recently overturned but Galloway still had harsh words for Jason Kenney, the Calgary MP responsible for his suspension.
"So Mr. Kenney, you'd be better to meet me man-to-man and resolve it, because if you don't the courts will," Galloway said.
The federal immigration minister had been sent numerous invitations to the public speaking event but his reserved seat remained empty.
"I'm not going to let it rest," Galloway announced to cheers from the largely sympathetic crowd. "Because Canada remains a country governed by law, not by the whim of here today, gone tomorrow."
"What's gone wrong with Canada?" was a major theme of Galloway's speech as he waxed nostalgic about the country he dealt with frequently during his 25 years in the British Parliament.
"How did a country that was loved, respected, admired in the world . . . how did a country like Canada, once regarded as the kinder, gentler North-American state, turn into the Alamo, the last ditch, dead-end, voodoo diplomatics of a George W. Bush government here in Ottawa?" asked Galloway. "I don't understand how that could have happened."
Galloway spoke harshly of the Canadian government's recent reversal on keeping troops in Afghanistan, calling the ruling Conservatives and the Liberal opposition, who didn't push for a vote in Parliament on the issue, "Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum."
As an advocate for Palestinians, Galloway's principal concern was the government's biased treatment of the conflict between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. He declared Harper's support of Israel "a badge of shame," citing Canada's failed bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council as evidence that this badge has disgraced Canada's international standing.
The Canadian government was not Galloway's only target-- the Canadian press was repeatedly denounced as having failed to provide accurate and balanced information.
"What's gone wrong with the Canadian media that it allows this kind of madness and repeats [and] regurgitates these lies?" he asked. "I've given up on the Canadian media."
President of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and vice-president events for the Afghan-Canadian Students' Society Jaya Taqat was a principal organizer of the event and was thrilled with the attendance, hoping that it positively affected students in the crowd.
"We live in the city where Kenney comes from and Harper comes from and it's important for us to get politically involved to help change the climate that exists out there in the world and that involves the human rights abuses and the other things that occur that violate international law," Taqat said. "Hearing speakers like this just helps enlighten other students and it helps get us interested in other avenues for activism."
Director of campus security Lanny Fritz expressed concerns about security for the event after protests occurred in other cities where Galloway spoke.
"There were 400 protestors at York on his first night, so that creates some interest in us to try and get us what we're going to need in the way of security here," said Fritz. "We do anticipate there's probably going to be some people that oppose him and as long as it's a peaceful protest we're good with all that."
Only two protestors braved the cold to oppose Galloway's speech, brandishing an Israeli flag and signs denouncing Galloway as a fundraiser for terrorists.
Galloway has three more stops on his tour, which ends in Ottawa on Saturday.