I received the call around the middle of August, during a week I had planned to take away from my news duties at CKUW.
Apparently, a group of Eritrean nationals were in Winnipeg, following similar visits to Calgary and Toronto, principally to raise funds for the Eritrean regime.
According to my contact, Ghezae Hagos of the Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Manitoba, the planned fundraiser would have been a violation of Canadian law.
The visitors consisted of the “Walta” band and an Eritrean government official named Zemhret Yohannes.
Hagos pointed out that these entities represented the Eritrean ruling party, the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) that is under a UN sanctioned arms embargo upheld by Canada.
Representatives of the EPLF, and fundraising on their behalf, are banned in this country on the grounds that EPLF has supplied support for the Somali militant group known as Al-Shabab, a militia associated with terrorism in the region.
The fundraiser was apparently held on Aug. 18 at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church.
Protesters chanted and waved placards outside. Dozens of participants made their way inside.
When a Winnipeg Free Press reporter carrying a ticket for the event identified herself as media she was disallowed from entering the church premises by security for the event.
It seemed odd to me that Canadian officials have been so lackadaisical about responding to warnings from citizens and press alike about suspicious foreigners apparently staging a fundraiser for a group linked with terrorism.
For that matter, how could they have gotten into the country in the first place?
Information about Yohannes is readily available through a simple Google search.
Moreover, a visa to his colleague, Eritrean Foreign Affairs Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, had been denied in 2008 on the same grounds.
David Matas, a Winnipeg human rights lawyer of international repute, has added his voice to that of the Eritrean-Canadian protesters.
In an interview, which aired on CKUW Aug. 20, he explained that Yohannes must have misrepresented himself to officials at the visa office in Nairobi. Matas posited that huge waiting lists and backlogs, and limited resources may have been to blame for the mistake.
He still seemed perplexed that such a mistake could have been made given Yohannes’s profile.
One wonders if this kind of mistake could have just as easily been made if the fundraiser was for a group like Al-Quaeda.
There is a disturbing historical parallel to this narrative.
A special report from the Oct. 28, 2002 edition of National Review obtained the visa records for the Saudi Arabian nationals who hijacked airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001.
A panel of six separate experts, upon examining the visa application forms of the 15 hijackers, found that all of these applications should have been rejected on their face.
In just one case for example, the form of an applicant for a temporary resident visa, Abdulaziz Alomari, showed him claiming to be a student but not mentioning the name and address of the school he was to attend in the appropriate box.
He indicated he would self-finance a two-month stay at the “JKK Whyndham Hotel” without supplying the legally necessary proof he had the financial means to do so.
He indicated he was married but did not mention the name of his spouse when prompted.
He also listed his home address as “ALQUDOS HTL JED,” a hotel in Jeddah. This was a major red flag as it suggested he was not well rooted in Saudi Arabia and therefore more likely to attempt to stay in the U.S.
But he received his visa nonetheless, and on Sept. 11, 2001, successfully crashed a plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.
Public Safety Minister and University of Winnipeg honourary graduate Vic Toews has recently commented that his government is so committed to protecting Canadians from terrorism and other threats that he would sanction the use of information obtained through torture.
If such draconian measures are to be sanctioned by Canadians, either overtly or through their silence, then surely a thorough examination of how and why unqualified persons from inadmissible groups are being awarded entry into this country is in order.
Michael Welch is a science student at the University of Manitoba and news director for CKUW 95.9FM.
Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)