Members of a fundamentalist American church group planning to stage a protest at the funeral for a Winnipeg man brutally killed on a Greyhound bus have managed to enter Canada, a spokeswoman told CBC News on Friday.
Canadian border guards are under orders to prevent members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial Kansas-based sect, from entering the country.
The group intends to picket the funeral of 22-year-old Tim McLean to tell Canadians his slaying on July 30 was God's response to Canadian policies enabling abortion, homosexuality and divorce and remarriage.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day's office sent an alert to border patrol to "look out" for people with signs and pamphlets consistent with the messages that the church promotes and to keep them out of the country.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of church founder Fred Phelps, said a group of church members was turned away from a border crossing at Niagara Falls, but a small group did manage to get into Manitoba overnight.
"They were looking for picket signs and they were looking for leaflets. Well, we don't do leaflets, and the picket signs, you know, Fed Ex ships them overnight," she said.
However, Phelps-Roper said the reaction the group has raised from some police and public officials has her questioning whether the planned protest will go ahead.
"The question to my mind [is] whether or not we ought to get them the heck out of that country, because that's some crazy stuff when you've got your officials talking like they are in a back-alley brawl and not government officials who took an oath to obey the law and so forth."
Phelps-Roper said she would advise church members not to go ahead with the protest if there is a concern they might be arrested or harmed.
A counter-protest against the church's picket plans was launched on the social networking site Facebook on Thursday.
More than 700 people have since joined the group; postings indicate they plan to form a "human wall" around the family to shield them from the church protest, if it takes place.
Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin said the group should be "sent packing," and should not try to show up in Winnipeg "for their own safety."
"We're not going to allow these people to compound the tragedy of the McLean family loss, and Canadians simply won't tolerate these lunatics disrupting what should be a respectful service," he told CBC News on Friday.
"Your freedom to swing your arm in the air ends when it touches the end of my nose," he added. "What these people were going to do was hurtful, harmful and disruptive to the peace, order and good government that we guarantee to our citizens, so they have no place in this country."
Family in shock, requests privacy
Meanwhile, Tim McLean's mother released a short public statement Friday morning, saying the family is in "complete shock at the horrifying loss of our loved one."
Carol deDelley expressed frustration that some media outlets have not identified McLean's family members properly; the statement identifies Tim's parents and step-parents and the six siblings in his blended families.
DeDelley asked for privacy during the family's time of mourning.