Bill Ayers, an expert in urban education based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was turned away at the border last night, barred from entering Canada to give a lecture this evening. Ayers was invited by the Centre for Urban Schooling (CUS) at OISE to speak on teacher activism and was slated to deliver his talk at the Isabel Bader Theatre in front of an audience of about five hundred. He is also one of the founders of the Weather Underground, a radical-left group established in 1969 that was best known for conducting riots and bombings to protest various American military actions. Charges related to these activities were dropped in 1973, and Ayers has long been a respected member of the academic community in Chicago: named Chicago Citizen of the Year in 1997, Ayers worked closely with Mayor Richard Daley in attempting to reform the city’s school system in the 1990s, and now he is active on the lecture circuit.
Our calls to Canadian Border Services were not returned, nor has CBS issued an official statement on the matter. The Centre for Urban Schooling has been struggling to explain the decision—according to their press release, it was “based apparently on a 1969 conviction during an anti-war demonstration.” Ayers did, however, have all his travel documents in order, and the CUS had no indication that his entry into Canada would be challenged. The Centre views the refusal to deny Ayers entry as a “political decision” and fully intends to follow up with the relevant government officials.
Though Ayers recently came in for a bout of public attention due to some fear-mongering surrounding his support for Barack Obama, there is absolutely no indication that anyone—including the government or police of either this country or the U.S.—thinks that he is currently engaged in any nefarious activities. The decision is one we find particularly perplexing given that Mark Rudd, another co-founder of the Weather Underground, was admitted into the country last year for a discussion at the Toronto International Film Festival. The CUS is asking citizens to write to Peter Van Loan, Minister of Public Safety, to express their concern about what they are describing as an issue of academic freedom.