Let Bill Ayers in this time

Former radical militant denied entry to Canada in 2009, scheduled to return in June

In about a month and a half’s time, former education professor and intellectual theorist Bill Ayers will try to enter Canada to speak at a higher-ed conference being held in Toronto in June. However, the last time he tried to do that, he didn’t quite make it to the podium.  Back in 2009, Ayers was stopped by Canada Border Services Agency in a detention he called “arbitrary.” “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969,” he remarked at the time. “I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”

Ayers has a less-than-stellar resume from a border agent’s perspective–there’s no doubt about that. In 1969, he co-founded a group called the Weather Underground that was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War and expressed its disapproval through coordinated bombings of public buildings. The Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and New York City police headquarters were all targeted by the Weather Underground. When that shtick got old, he eventually moved on to work in education reform, becoming a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, but didn’t really become a household name until 2008 when he was connected to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

It was then that Ayers’ past started garnering widespread attention. Public appearances and speaking engagements featuring Ayers were cancelled, and of course, it wasn’t long after that Ayers found himself being denied entry to Canada, despite having visited more than a dozen times.

Now, the organizers of the Worldviews Conference on Media scheduled this June are looking to the Government of Canada to ensure Ayers makes it in this time. They issued a press release last week in which Prof. Mark Langer, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) said, “This is an issue of academic freedom, not one of a potential ‘threat’ to Canadian security. In the interests of open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas, Prof. Ayers must be allowed to speak.”

Langer is absolutely right. Ayers has never been convicted of a felony (perhaps that’s indicative of an inherently flawed system, but that’s another debate), and, simply, should not be denied entry. While his Weather Underground past is indisputably reprehensible, and his pseudo-regret moot at best, disallowing Ayers to attend a conference in Canada on the grounds of national security is a fallable excuse. And certainly, his devotion to educational reform (and self-indulgent memoir-penning) are not reasons to send him away at the border. For the exchange of ideas to truly thrive, we have to allow even the most controversial.

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