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Bar pro-Eritrean activist from Canada, group says

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Bar pro-Eritrean activist from Canada, group says

By: Carol Sanders

A group of Winnipeggers is trying to prevent a U.S. woman who made incendiary remarks such as "evil" Jews from entering Canada again.

"I don't know how the Canadian border agency would let this woman come again," said Eritrean refugee Daniel Awshek. He attended an event in Winnipeg in 2010 where he said expatriate Eritrean Sophia Tesfamariam made the remarks and shamed people who had fled Eritrea, urging them to send the regime money.

She is expected to visit Canada Sunday, starting with a fundraiser in Vancouver, said Awshek. The U.S.-based Tesfamariam does fundraising and public appearances throughout the Eritrean diaspora, promoting the government of Eritrea.

Her Winnipeg visit two years ago riled human rights activists. After hearing a recording of her speech, B'nai Brith Canada asked that Tesfamariam be barred further entry to Canada, said David Matas, honorary senior counsel for the human rights group.

"She was giving a speech here before which was anti-Semitic, and she's raising money for the Eritrean regime -- a regime subject to UN sanctions, and Canada co-operated with the sanctions," said Matas, an international human rights lawyer.

In it, she repeatedly accused Israel of being engaged in terrorist activities and blamed the Jewish state for destabilizing the Middle East.

She said, "...don't be evil like them (the Jews); don't blow up people, don't do things that are evil..."

Inciting hatred of a group is a criminal offence in Canada. Immigration law bars a person from entering Canada if there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual will commit a criminal offence.

"If she is allowed entry, the attorney general of British Columbia should commence a prosecution against her for public incitement to hatred and wilful promotion of hatred," Matas said.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on the Eritrean government in 2009 for arming and equipping insurgents trying to topple the government of struggling Somalia.

"In her public speech in Winnipeg, she defended Al Shabab as a Somali nationalist force unfairly maligned by the West," Matas said. Al Shabab is listed in Canada as a terrorist organization.

The UN has endorsed sanctions against the Eritrean regime for its arming of Somali terrorists, and Canada participates in the sanctions, Matas said.

In her Winnipeg speech, Tesfamariam defended the levy of a two per cent income tax on expatriate Eritreans as a donation to the Eritrean military, he said.

"The department of Foreign Affairs has warned expats against giving money to the regime, and Canada has warned the (Eritrean consulate) against collecting the two per cent tax," said Matas.

Awshek, a nurse and evangelical Christian, said he doesn't want refugees from Eritrea being coerced by Tesfamariam to send money to the regime they fled.

"Stop this woman and let us live in peace and integrate into Canadian society," he said.

Canadian Border Services Agency spokesman Sean Best said admissibility to Canada is decided at the port of entry at the time the person seeking entry arrives there.

He said all persons seeking entry must meet the legal requirements for doing so.

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