An anti-globalization activist and European Parliament MP who opposes a trade deal between Canada and the European Union has been allowed to stay in Canada after immigration officials scrambled to grant him a temporary resident permit.
José Bové, who represents France as a member of the EU's Green Party in Brussels, missed a speaking engagement in Montreal Tuesday after he was held up by customs at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
He was originally told he'd have to leave the country on Wednesday. But then he received a call from Canada Border Services Agency saying he would be allowed to stay for seven days.
The Council of Canadians, a social action organization, organized the event at which Bové was invited to speak Tuesday night. He is also scheduled to speak at the Groundswell conference in St. John's on Friday.
Bové said CBSA agents told him he was being expelled because of his previous convictions, including one for vandalizing a McDonald's restaurant, which he said was strange because he has been to Canada many times before without issue.
A senior official in Immigration Minister John McCallum's office issued a statement late Wednesday saying that although it is the CBSA's responsibility to make security decisions about who has the right to enter Canada, in certain instances the immigration minister can authorize a temporary permit if the need to stay outweighs any risk to Canadian society.
"It is in Canada's interest to ensure that a French member of the European Parliament is granted open and fair entry to Canada so he might have the opportunity to offer his perspective on an important issue for Canadians such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)," the official said in an email.
"It is also important for all foreign officials and members of Parliament who know they will face entry challenges to get pre-clearance prior to attempting entry to Canada," it continued, saying that advising Canada in advance was "standard practice" to "ensure facilitation" — and appearing to suggest Bové had not done so in this case.
After hours in customs Tuesday, Bové was allowed to go to his hotel, but his passport was confiscated and he was told he would have to leave Canada on Wednesday afternoon, he said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Bové called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain why he was held at the airport.
In a statement, the Council of Canadians questioned whether there was political interference with his visit.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May added that "questions remain as to how Mr. Bové, a sitting parliamentarian, was denied entry into Canada in the first place after obtaining a travel visa."
Decision up to border agents, federal government says
Alex Lawrence, a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, denied any interference, saying the government supports "open, public debate — including about trade."
"This is the only way to build public support and a public consensus," he said in an email, adding that Freeland has met personally with many opponents of CETA, including protesters in Germany last month.
Earlier, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said decisions on who is allowed into Canada are left to the discretion of border services agents.
Scott Bardsley said there are a "number of reasons someone may be refused entry under immigration law, including past criminality, posing a threat to the safety of Canadians, and lying in an interview."
A CBSA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on individual cases, but that admissibility is determined on a case by case basis, and a person may be deemed inadmissible to Canada if they have committed a crime, or for security and financial reasons, among other reasons.
NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, who was scheduled to meet with Bové on Thursday, said the situation is "totally unacceptable for a democratic country like Canada."
A history of activism
Bové became famous in the 1980s and 1990s as an activist. In 1999, he vandalized a McDonald's restaurant to protest against free trade in agriculture.
His career has been punctuated by other acts of civil disobedience that twice landed him in jail in the early 2000s. He was elected to the European Parliament in 2009 as part of the Groupe des Verts party.
Jean-Marc Desfilhes, his press attaché, said he and Bové had the same visa and Desfilhes got through customs without issue.
"He isn't a criminal. He is an elected member of the European Parliament. This is simply an extremely embarrassing situation," Desfilhes said.
CETA has not yet been signed or ratified, although a signing ceremony is expected in Brussels later this month. If it is ratified by the European Parliament, some of its measures could be provisionally applied as early as 2017.
Critics say the deal will hurt farmers on both sides of the Atlantic. Bové said he believes the treaty is dangerous for the environment and is socially and ecologically unjust.
Bové's time in Montreal coincides with a visit by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who arrived in Ottawa Wednesday.
CETA will be one of a number of topics on the agenda when Valls meets with Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.