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The ONW Salon: Should Chelsea Manning be allowed into Canada? 

Susanna Kelley (Moderator): The controversial former U.S. intelligence analyst says she has received a letter permanently barring her from entering Canada.  Manning was convicted of the largest breach of classified information in US history when she passed information on to Wikileaks. Should she be allowed in? Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin debate.


John Capobianco:

We have someone who was charged with one of the most serious crimes in the U.S.— Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to serve a 35-year sentence at a maximum-security military facility for leaking significant classified materials—who wants to come to Canada. Ms. Manning was released from prison after President Obama commuted her sentence, which was at the time hugely controversial. As a free woman, she feels she can travel to Canada.

Well ... not so fast!

Our Border Security official and Immigration officials have refused her entry on the basis that the crime she had committed in the U.S. is deemed to be as serious in this country, so therefore she poses a threat to our security.

I think Minister Ralph Goodale said it best when he said, "And when a Canada Border Security Services officer has exercised appropriately within their jurisdiction the judgment that they are called upon to make, I don't interfere in that process in any kind of a light or cavalier manner."

I hope that the Minister will hold true to this and not take this issue lightly. She was tried and convicted for leaking top-secret information that put the lives of many men and women in danger. Just because President Obama, who has every right afforded him to commute sentences, commuted her sentence, doesn't make her less of a risk in this country.


Tom Parkin:

I find it puzzling that Chelsea Manning has been denied entry to Canada. I find it so puzzling that I wonder if this was the result of an individual in Canada Border Services Agency rather than a policy.

Manning released a massive trove of classified and sensitive military information to WikiLeaks, some of which was deeply powerful and disturbing.

An early significant leak was a 2007 video of a U.S. helicopter attack on a group of men, including two Reuters photographers. When people arrive in a van to take away the dead and wounded, they’re also fired on. Several innocents were killed and two children were injured.

You can see that video here.  

Manning’s leaks started to shift the debate about the Iraq war and lead Americans to a different answer to George Bush’s question “Why do they hate us?” Maybe the answer isn’t Islam and envy. Maybe it’s something more universal.

Given the highly charged context, opinion about Chelsea Manning is sharply divided. Some see her as a traitor, others as whistleblower.  But a denial of admission to Canada surely can’t be based on opinion

Manning was charged with aiding the enemy, an extremely serious charge that can lead to a death sentence. She was acquitted on that charge but found guilty of espionage by a court-martial and sentenced to a prison term of 35 years.

That term was commuted to seven years by President Obama. Manning completed her sentence and was released in May.

It is true we are not obliged to allow entry to a foreign citizen simply because they live freely in their own country. But given some of the other people admitted to Canada, this does not seem to be an even-handed application of policy. I think we need to know more about the policy basis of this decision.


Richard Mahoney:

The facts have been set out well by our moderator Susanna Kelley and by Tom and John above. They are not at issue; Chelsea Manning applied for admission to Canada, apparently disclosed her convictions and was denied entry. My friend Tom says he was puzzled by this and wonders whether the official who denied Manning entry was substituting his or her opinion for official government policy. While I am obviously not familiar with the particular officer in this case, we can be sure this decision was not only properly made[1]  but that it was based on Canadian law.

Every person who applies for entry to Canada at a border, and who is not a permanent resident of Canada, must fulfill certain requirements. One of those requirements is to disclose any convictions. If an individual has been convicted of a committing a serious crime that would be punishable by a maximum prison term of at least 10 years in Canada, they are inadmissible.

As I understand Ms. Manning’s circumstance, she applied for admission and disclosed her convictions. They were for crimes punishable by a maximum prison term of at least ten years in Canada, and the officer on duty ruled her inadmissible.

On the face of it, and assuming the information we have is correct, it appears that not only was the officer right to do so, but that, legally, they would have had no discretion to decide otherwise.


John Capobianco:

Richard laid out the process perfectly and by doing so effectively reiterated what Minister Goodale had surmised as well—let the Border Services and Immigration professionals do their jobs, which apparently they have done. I am not sure what else to say other than we always need to be vigilant on who we let into our country, as there are different levels of threats to our safety and security.

No one is suggesting that Ms. Manning would be a terrorist threat to Canada, because as Tom mentions above, some say she is a whistleblower rather than a traitor. However, it is not for a Border Security official to determine whether she is a whistleblower or not—they are going by facts, which, as Ms. Manning has disclosed, are that she was convicted for leaking classified information.

If for nothing else, our Border Security officials are making a call based on what they know of the facts and are obliged to do. I think they have this one right.


Tom Parkin:

Good information from Richard that I was unaware of.

However, her sentence was commuted to seven years by the President—but perhaps that is irrelevant to the way our policy is structured.

I'll be honest about my sympathies. What Chelsea Manning did was illegal. But I in my mind, unless it put lives at risk, it was moral.

The whole war was based on a lie. And it resulted in the deaths of 500,000 people. The U.S. strategy of "regime change" has been an outstanding failure.

In the late 70s, the U.S. lost Iran's support with the Iranian Revolution. Then in the 80s they helped Iraq in a war against Iran. In the 90s they acted against Iraq, leading to the regime change of the 2000s. They overthrew the Libyan government. They took sides against the Syrian government.

The point isn't that any of these were great governments—they were not. But, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Syria and Libya began a rapprochement with the US. They even ended their weapons programs.

But that wasn't enough.

Now Iraq, Syria and Libya are smoldering disasters. Iraq is aligned with Iran. Syria is more tightly tied to Russia than ever. As for Libya, no one's in charge, but the ISIS types have a strong hand.

And what is the message to North Korea about disarmament?

Chelsea Manning reminds us that war and regime change has been a disaster for people and a strategic blunder by the United States.


Richard Mahoney:

I admit to having some of the same sympathies as Tom does on the morality of all of this. The problem is that while it may be true that some of that information may have compromised people, it also told us all things we are better off knowing, and that the U.S. government was apparently keeping secret. That is a longer discussion, with lots of grey area to muck around in.

President Obama did commute Manning's sentence on compassionate grounds. But he did not pardon her, so, again, given the facts that appear to be publicly known and that Manning has disclosed herself, Obama’s commuting of her sentence would have no impact on the officer’s decision to admit. Had he pardoned her, that would be different—the conviction then does not exist in law and, presumably, she would then be admissible.

Someone in Manning’s situation would have a couple of options—she could appeal the officer’s decision if it was wrong in law. I am not aware that she has done so. The Act also provides for an application process to be exempted from these provisions. There are conditions for that application, one of which is it cannot be made until 5 years after the date of the original conviction.

Wherever our sympathies lie on what Manning did, it does appear to me that the official who made this decision was applying the law, and doing so correctly.


Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 








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