The controversy over Nation of Islam member Khalid Abdul Muhammad moved north of the border on Friday as Canadian immigration authorities threatened to arrest him as an illegal immigrant if he shows up for a scheduled weekend speech here.
Muhammad--whose fiery comments in U.S. speaking engagements have been widely condemned as anti-Semitic and anti-white--would be ineligible for entry into Canada because of his 1987 fraud conviction and because he potentially violates this nation’s laws against hate crimes, said Roger White, spokesman for Immigration Minister Sergio Marchi.
If Muhammad eludes detection by border authorities and turns up in Canada, the law “would allow immigration officials to arrest and detain him,” White said.
But sponsors of Muhammad’s appearance promised he would speak anyway. Donnie X, a Nation of Islam spokesman from Brampton, a Toronto suburb, said immigration law was subject to “interpretation” and that to arrest Muhammad would be “a miscarriage of justice.” He said he had talked with immigration lawyers but declined to say if Muhammad was already in Canada.
Muhammad was to speak tonight at the University of Toronto, sponsored by the Black Youth Congress, which apparently is affiliated with the Brampton Nation of Islam group.
On Thursday, Canadian Jewish Congress President Irving Abella wrote to Marchi calling Muhammad a “hatemonger” and adding that “his criminal record, his record as a racist agitator and the real possibility that his scheduled speech in Toronto could break Canadian law all combine to make an unassailable case that he does not belong here.”
Immigration officials said they would bar Muhammad from entering Canada. The university, which had no role in sponsoring the speech, canceled the appearance, saying it would be unlawful and that the Black Youth Congress had misrepresented itself when renting the hall.
On Friday, Donnie X told a news conference that the speech had been rescheduled for Sunday at a private hall in Toronto. He was joined by Dudley Laws, a local black activist not affiliated with the Nation of Islam, and by a high school student who identified himself as Little X and said he was a member of the Black Youth Congress.
Little X said Muhammad should be allowed to speak in Toronto so Canadians could hear and judge him directly, not through media reports. Laws did not mention the Canadian Jewish Congress by name but argued a “double standard” was at work. He said a black group would be harshly criticized if it called for someone to be barred from Canada.
Muhammad was unavailable for comment Friday but told the Toronto Globe & Mail on Thursday that the purpose of his appearance was “not to teach black people to hate white people, or Arab people, or Jews, but to get a greater knowledge of black culture and history, because a knowledge of self is important to black people.”
He said his 1987 conviction in Atlanta for fraudulently obtaining a loan, for which he received a three-year prison sentence, should not be grounds for keeping him out of Canada because he has paid his debt to society.
Muhammad became controversial after his Nov. 29 speech at New Jersey’s Kean College, where he referred to Jews as “bloodsuckers of the black nation” who control the government, the news media and other black activists. He called Pope John Paul II “a cracker” and insulted homosexuals and others.
He then was a top aide to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Muhammad’s speech was denounced by the Congressional Black Caucus, Vice President Al Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and black leaders.
On Feb. 3, Farrakhan demoted and chastised Muhammad for what he called “repugnant, malicious, mean-spirited” remarks. But Farrakhan failed to satisfy all critics, noting: “While I stand by the truths that he (Muhammad) spoke, I must condemn in the strongest terms the manner in which those truths were represented.”