Ottawa under pressure to refuse entry to French performer Dieudonné
MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail
The French performer known as Dieudonné bills himself as a comedian, but many people do not find him funny at all. He has mocked the Holocaust on stage, called Hitler a “good boy,” and popularized a controversial hand gesture known as the “quenelle” that resembles a downward Nazi salute.
The material has earned him a string of convictions in Europe for racial hatred. Now the entertainer is scheduled to travel to Montreal for a series of sold-out shows next month, putting pressure on Ottawa to ban his entry and sparking a debate over the limits of free speech.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said flatly Friday that Dieudonné, whose real name is Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, is persona non grata in the city. “Someone who incites racial hatred and foments social tensions in Europe isn’t welcome in Montreal,” he tweeted.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on Ottawa to keep the comedian out.
“Canada should not let a convicted offender of hate speech laws into the country,” said spokesman David Ouellette. “He has crossed the line into incitement to violence. When you’re calling on people to unite to kill Jews, it is surely a red line, where freedom of expression is no excuse.”
Those involved in Mr. M’bala M’bala’s tour in Quebec insist the performer has tempered his material and authorities should not be trying to silence him. “This is about freedom of expression. That is my fight,” said Gino Ste-Marie, a Quebec City-based organizer involved in the tour.
Federal Immigration Minister John McCallum’s office says it is following the case closely, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says it will be left to Canadian border-services agents to rule on Mr. M’bala M’bala’s admissibility once he arrives at a port of entry. Mr. M’bala M’bala’s prior criminality will be taken into account.
Court convictions in Europe have started to pile up on Mr. M’bala M’bala. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a French court conviction of inciting racial hatred for a show in which Mr. M’bala M’bala invited a Holocaust denier onstage to receive a prize from an actor dressed in striped pyjamas, evoking a concentration camp uniform. A French court last year also gave him a suspended sentence for inciting terrorism after a Facebook post appearing sympathetic with one of the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Mayors of several cities in France have banned his shows as threats to public order. Britain and Hong Kong have denied him entry.
Yet France’s efforts to rein him in are also fuelling a debate over free speech. Despite the efforts to clamp down on him – or perhaps because of them – Mr. M’bala M’bala enjoys considerable popularity, particularly among alienated youth from Africa and North Africa.
Mr. M’bala M’Bala, who was born in Paris, has a connection to Quebec. He used to appear at major venues and as a guest on talk shows in the province, even as he became a source of controversy in Europe. Eventually, Quebec began to keep its distance.
This time, he is scheduled to perform in a small art gallery in downtown Montreal starting in just over two weeks. The performer is also booked in Trois-Rivières, and Mr. Ste-Marie says he plans to add shows in Quebec City.
The owner of the Montreal venue, Mushagalusa Chigoho, said he reviewed Mr. M’bala M’bala’s material for the coming show and has also received “guarantees” it would not contain hateful or racist material. “I cannot be responsible for what this man has said in the past,” he said.
Toronto immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman says Canada has legal grounds for denying entry to Mr. M’bala M’bala because of his prior convictions for hate speech. Canada has equivalent laws.
“It would have a strong case against letting him in,” Ms. Jackman says. If he showed up, Canada could detain him and order him deported, she added.