'No threat': Civil liberties groups support Chelsea Manning's bid to cross Canadian border
American whistleblower tried to visit friends in Canada last month but was denied entry
A Canadian lawyer representing Chelsea Manning has formally requested the Canadian government reconsider its decision to block the American leaker of classified documents from entering the country.
In support, more than 40 civil liberties groups, human rights advocates, privacy scholars, and academics have sent letters to the Canadian government highlighting Manning's advocacy for government transparency, prisoners' rights, and the LGTBQ community. They argue she poses no threat to the public safety of Canada or Canadians.
Manning attempted to enter Canada to visit friends on Sept. 22, 2017, but was detained at a Quebec's St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing and ultimately denied entry because of her prior conviction in the U.S. on espionage charges.
The decision to bar her entry came as a genuine shock to me, as it seems to so starkly contravene the stated progressive values of your government- Naomi Klein
She was convicted by a U.S. military court in 2010 for providing a wide-ranging trove of classified documents — including diplomatic cables, incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and evidence of human rights abuses by the U.S. military — to the website Wikileaks. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Manning's sentence was commuted by former U.S. president Barack Obama in January 2017, after seven years in prison. Yet, according to a written opinion prepared at the border by an immigration officer, those convictions would equate to treason under Canadian law, making her inadmissible for entry.
Both her lawyer and Canadian supporters disagree.
"Chelsea's experiences provide her with a unique perspective, and her public advocacy since her release has provided important opportunities for dialogue and education while enriching international understanding of a range of important public matters," reads a shared statement signed by several individuals and organizations. "More than that, letting Chelsea in is simply the right thing to do."
so, i guess canada has permanently banned me ? ✋🤠🌄🇨🇦 <a href="https://twitter.com/CitImmCanada">@CitImmCanada</a> denied entry b/c of convictions similar to "treason" offense 🤔🌈💕 <a href="https://t.co/xp0JOEEOGd">pic.twitter.com/xp0JOEEOGd</a>—@xychelsea
An exceptional case
Usually, a person who is believed to be inadmissible will be referred to an admissibility hearing before the immigration division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, where a final determination will be made.
However, Manning's Toronto-based lawyer Joshua Blum has asked the government to withdraw and discontinue the referral of Manning's case before it reaches the hearing stage. The process is known as a request for reconsideration.
"A hearing there will focus solely on whether the offence committed in the U.S. is equivalent to a serious crime in Canada," argued Blum in his submission to the government.
The offices of both the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.
Blum said in an interview that, although it is rare, officials have the discretion not to refer the report to the immigration division when faced with exceptional cases such as Manning's.
In his submission to the government, Blum argues that myriad factors — including Manning's time served, the public interest inherent to her whistleblowing activities, and the value she could bring Canadians as a public speaker on issues ranging from freedom of expression and privacy to LGTBQ rights — would not be considered in an admissibility hearing, but could be considered under the government's discretion now.
"How does Canada gain from relitigating this matter and fighting to keep a proud transgender speaker and activist who stands for so many Canadian values out of Canada?" Blum wrote.
Decision 'a genuine shock'
Letters of support — authored by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Access Now, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression — were also delivered to Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen and Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale.
"The decision to bar her entry came as a genuine shock to me, as it seems to so starkly contravene the stated progressive values of your government," wrote journalist and author Naomi Klein in one of the letters.
In describing the public interest impact of the material that Manning leaked, McGill University Professor Gabriella Coleman said that her students were "visibly shaken" by 2007 footage of an American military helicopter in Baghdad shooting and killing civilians — among them a Reuters photographer and his driver.
"A prison sentence, once over, should not continue shackle a citizen," Coleman wrote. "She poses no threat to national security nor the citizens of Canada. An ongoing ban only serves to threaten Canada's long-standing commitments to international justice, security, and human rights."