Controversial whistleblower Chelsea Manning fighting to be let into Canada

Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. intelligence analyst who was convicted in one of the largest breaches of classified information in American history, is fighting to be allowed into Canada.

Canadian government is arguing she is inadmissible due to her prior convictions

Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. intelligence analyst who was convicted in one of the largest breaches of classified information in American history, is fighting to be allowed into Canada.

The Canadian government is seeking to ban her from entering the country, arguing that she should be denied entry because of the serious criminality of her prior convictions on espionage charges in her home country.

Manning appeared virtually today in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board for an admissibility hearing. The administrative tribunal makes decisions about who can enter and stay in Canada.

"I really like Canada," she told the hearing today.

"I have many friends in Canada and obviously the pandemic has gotten in the way of a lot of this, but certainly in 2018 and 2019 I wanted to visit some friends in Canada, particularly in Montreal and Vancouver."

Her case dates back to September 2017, when border officers denied her entry at Quebec's St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing. At the time, the government, citing her espionage charge, argued that if it had been committed in Canada "this offence would equate to an indictable offence, namely, treason."

Manning has been both praised as a whistleblower and condemned as a traitor for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, the website founded by Julian Assange, in 2010 while serving in the U.S. military.

She said she wanted to expose what she saw as the U.S. military's disregard for how the Iraq War was affecting civilians, and that she did it "out of love" for her country.

In 2013, she was convicted of six counts of violating the Espionage Act — which forbids unauthorized people from sharing national defence information — and a handful of other charges, including stealing government property. She was acquitted of the most serious charge against her: aiding the enemy.

In one of his last acts as president, Barack Obama commuted Manning's sentence in 2017. She was released from military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence.

Anthony Lashley, a government lawyer, said Ottawa is asking the tribunal to rule that she is not permitted to enter the country.

Lashley spent the morning questioning Manning on how she accessed, downloaded and shared documents.

He also questioned her on her previous plans to share information with various news organizations.

'Whistleblowing are acts of honesty': lawyer

Manning's lawyer Joshua Blum argued her American offences are not equivalent to Canadian offences, making her not inadmissible. 

He pointed to a provision in the Security of Information Act, Canada's national secrets act, which includes whistleblower protection in the "public interest."

A van with a 'Free Speech' placard and images of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning on its side sits outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Friday, April 5, 2019. (The Associated Press)

"We have a public interest defence for what Manning was convicted of," he said. "The U.S. doesn't."

Blum also argued Manning's actions were justified by "necessity" and that the public interest in disclosing that information outweighed the harm.

"The ongoing and unreported killings of Iraqi and Afghan civilians necessitated this act of whistleblowing," he said.

"We further add the acts of whistleblowing are acts of honesty, not fraudulence."

'Collateral murder' video shown 

When asked by her counsel why she shared the documents, Manning said "it always feels so self evident."

"I was just shocked at how little people knew about how bad the war in particular was," she said.

While being questioned by the adjudicator, Manning said she didn't share sensitive documents that would have revealed the sources of U.S. government intelligence. She is still bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the U.S. government and did not go into detail about what she leaked.

During the proceedings, Blum and co-counsel Lex Gill turned to Heidi Matthews, an assistant professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, to testify on international crimes.

As part of that questioning, they played a video titled "Collateral Murder" which made waves when it was first released on WikiLeaks more than a decade ago.

This image captured from a classified U.S. military video footage shows Iraqis being shot from an U.S. Apache helicopter that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff, on July 12, 2007. The video was released to Reuters on April 5, 2010 by WikiLeaks. Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in the incident. (Reuters/WikiLeaks/Handout)

The video shows a 2007 United States Army assault in Baghdad that left 12 people dead, including a Reuters photographer and driver. The video shows soldiers laughing and making jokes while taking part in the attack.

"Look at those dead bastards," one person can be overheard saying on the video. "Nice," another responds.

After an exchange of gunfire wounded two children, one soldier is heard saying on the video that "it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle."

It was later revealed that Manning leaked the video.

Matthews argued the video contradicted official statements from the U.S. at the time of the killings, which said the helicopters had been called in to help American troops who had been attacked first.

Government lawyers said at the start of today's hearing that the video shouldn't be played, arguing it was not relevant, it was submitted too late and was sent as a link rather than a CD. They were overruled.

Ottawa wanted Manning to appear in person

Ahead of today's hearing, the government objected to Manning appearing via video conference because that would prevent officials from deporting her immediately if an order came down quickly.

"The minister submits that holding an admissibility hearing without the person concerned being physically present in Canada would preclude them from enforcing a removal order which may be issued at the end of the proceedings," says the text of an interlocutory decision that rejected the government's request.

The content of that decision was first reported by the National Post.

Last week, lawyers acting for the minister of Public Safety asked the Immigration and Refugee Board to delay the hearing until Manning could appear in person.

The board said no.

"If she were physically in Canada when the order was made, the requirement would be that she leave Canada," wrote adjudicator Marisa Musto.

"Given that she is already outside Canada, a fact which is not in question, it can be said that the 'objective' of [the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act] in regards to denying access to Canadian territory to persons who are inadmissible would, de facto, be fulfilled."

Manning described the four-year process to land a Canadian hearing as "exhausting."

"Plus, I also have to relive this era, going over stuff that happened a decade ago again," she said.

Manning was granted a visa to enter Canada to speak at an event back in 2018 — something she said she hopes to continue doing in this country — but it came with no formal resolution of her admissibility.

The hearing was adjourned until Friday.


Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca