Canada excludes former political prisoners

Academics in Canada are questioning why that country denied entry to five Irish activists jailed as political prisoners after they were invited to talk about the peace process at the University of Ottawa and Concordia University this month.

The two-day University of Ottawa conference was to feature the five speakers, featuring scholars and a playwright, in a discussion on ex-prisoners' organizations.

The conference has now been postponed indefinitely.

"It's very disappointing," said University of Ottawa criminology professor Robert Gaucher, a conference organizer. "An important discourse is going to be cut off."

The event was to be co-sponsored by a branch of Correctional Services of Canada.

The speakers were to be former hunger striker, now sociologist Laurence McKeown, playwright Brenda Murphy, author Ella O'Dwyer, Tommy McKearney and John Nixon, both representatives of ex-prisoners' groups.

"They're being too harsh," Mr. McKeown said in an interview from his home in Belfast yesterday. "These people are absolutely not a threat to the Canadian people."

Mr. McKeown, who has a PhD in sociology, is well known in Ireland for his work with ex-prisoners' groups. He took part in a 70-day hunger strike in jail in 1981 in which 10 other Irish republican prisoners starved to death.

The five political ex-prisoners have been active in the peace process. Several were released from jail as part of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

Claire Delisle, a graduate student at Concordia, had invited Ms. O'Dwyer and Mr. McKeown to speak at the university's Peace and Conflict Resolution series.

"They're unique speakers," she said. She said the government's refusal to allow the five Irish citizens into Canada contradicts its contribution to Ireland's peace process.

Derik Hodgson, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Judy Sgro, said he could not comment on specific cases but said it is common practice to deny "convicted criminals" entry to Canada.

The department has previously allowed IRA members entry to Canada to engage in peace talks, he said, but could not say why this case was different.

* Gerry Adams will discuss the Irish peace process in a speech March 16 at the University of Notre Dame as part of his international book tour, it has been announced.

The speech, which is free and open to the public, will be at 5 p.m. in Washington Hall.

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