A few weeks ago, George W. Bush slunk into Calgary, Alberta where he was paid a reported $50,000 to address a gathering of oil men; in Alberta, there’s no such thing as oil women because, even in the 21st century, the province still revels in its rough-n’-ready, real cowboys are men, way of thinking. It was his first post-presidency speech and Canadians weren’t happy about it.
In fact, so many protesters showed up at the auditorium that Bush had to be squirreled through a maze of tunnels and back alleys to get from The Pallister Hotel where he stayed to the venue.
But protestors on the street weren’t the only group seeking to block Bush’s high-priced speech. Canadian human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit, trying to prevent Bush either from entering the country or to force the federal government to arrest him on charges of suspicion of war crimes.
Although the legal manoeuvre failed, mostly because it was filed to late to do any good, it indirectly resulted in the former president being asked by Ottawa to not return.
Three different sources in the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – an Albertan himself although he did not attend the Calgary event – confirmed to me that after the appearance, the Canadian government quietly sent word to Bush’s office in Texas saying it would be much happier if he didn’t try crossing the border again anytime soon.
Apparently deciding he better shore up his base in case the story leaked out – which it now has – he went on Fox News Sunday morning to discuss anything but telling Bush “get lost.”
In fact, at the same time the government reportedly slipped the same cautionary advice to Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld – who’s already been chased once through the streets of Paris by a French prosecutor who wanted to arrest and investigate him for car crimes – Fredo “Please Cry For Me I’m Al” Gonzales, John Ashcroft, and reportedly a few others, telling them that it would not be in their best interest to try entering Canada. Since none of the Bushies are protected any longer by diplomatic immunity, they could be seized at the border like some aged former SS officer still on the lam.
“The PM doesn’t want to be confronted during question time by the Opposition asking why he’s letting potential war criminals into the country,” one of the three sources said in an interview this week. Because they are part of the government, none of the three was willing to be quoted by name.
Another of the three sources told me, “Even though Harper likes Bush personally, the country hates him so the PM is trying to avoid what could be an embarrassing cross-border diplomatic incident, doing something that could trigger an election, or being seen by the public as coddling a possible war criminal.”
Under Canadian law, the Attorney General can investigate anyone anywhere in the world for war crimes and crimes against humanity even if a Canadian citizen is not involved.
However, at least three Canadian citizens were swept up by Bush war crimes: Two were held at Guantanamo – one is still there after being captured in 2001 as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan – and one endured “extraordinary rendition” when he was stopped at Kennedy Airport and sent to Syria’s torture chambers. It took more than a year to get the US to return Maher Arar, a telecommunications engineer living in Ottawa; when he finally got home, an independent commission awarded him several million dollars after finding he had no ties to terrorists and CSIS, the Canadian foreign security service, was complicit in his kidnapping.
If someone suspected of war crimes tries entering the country, the law says they must be detained at the border. Under the narrowest definition of war crimes in Canadian statutes, Bush and other high-ranking members of his administration committed four separate war crimes:
- When the US invaded Iraq without UN approval;
- When the invasion resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians;
- When Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ordered torture to be used during interrogations; and
- When the White House and Pentagon denied Red Cross access to prisoners at Gitmo and CIA black site prisons in Thailand, Poland and on the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia.
While a significant number of people here, in the US and around the world would be positively gleeful at the sight of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and a long list of others being clapped in irons at the border by the RCMP and hauled off to Kingston Prison while an investigation is undertaken, Ottawa has no interest in prompting a potential major row with Washington.
Harper decided it is more convenient to ask a handful of potential tourists to stay home.