With the Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors each four victories away from a matchup in the NBA Finals, plans are being made to ensure Blazers starting center Enes Kanter can safely participate in all the games.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter Tuesday to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of Kanter, encouraging "safe passage" for the Turkish player to Canada for all games.
"I ask your government to facilitate Mr. Kanter's safe passage to and from Canada should the Portland Trail Blazers play the Toronto Raptors in Toronto, Canada, in the upcoming NBA Finals," the letter reads. "I also urge your government to state publicly that it will not comply with any Interpol red notice meant to interfere with Mr. Kanter's livelihood and to intimidate him and his family back in Turkey."
Trudeau's office referred an Associated Press reporter's request for comment to the immigration minister's office. Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for the immigration minister, said Canada's privacy laws prohibited him from commenting on specific cases, but he explained that "we are committed to ensuring that every case is assessed fairly, on its merits and in accordance with Canada's laws.''
A senior Canadian government official said representatives received the letter and are looking into the case. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because officials are not authorized to talk publicly about the case, said the immediate facts suggest there is an abuse of Interpol's international wanted notice, known as a "red notice," but said they would have to study it further.
Kanter has found strong support from Wyden since joining the Blazers in February after being bought out by the New York Knicks.
"I have full confidence to myself and my team to win the Western Conference finals," Kanter told ESPN via text message. "Going to Toronto will be a bit hectic for me for the reasons you know, and I know Senator Wyden is working hard to make sure that I can make it, and I really appreciate it.
"On the other side, I know the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Justin Trudeau, is a good leader and I have confidence in him to help with my situation," Kanter added. "I know this because he's already helping many more Turkish citizens, in the Hizmet movement, who are oppressed by the Dictator Erdogan regime right now."
Kanter has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is aligned with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Erdogan government accuses of helping orchestrate a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Because of safety concerns and issues with his immigration status, Kanter, who has a green card, did not travel with the Blazers to play the Raptors in early March. Kanter saw his Turkish passport revoked in 2017, and he has had a warrant out for his arrest in Turkey since January. Turkey also reportedly seeks an Interpol red notice for Kanter, which could result in him being detained and deported back to his home country.
"On another note, even if Senator Wyden and PM Trudeau does their best, Dictator Erdogan will try using/abusing all his powers to manipulate red notice system through Interpol," Kanter said in the text message. "As you know, I am a law-abiding citizen both in Turkey and here in the U.S. -- I never broke a single law in my life, didn't even have a parking ticket, but Turkish government cancels my passport ... WHY? It's simply because I'm an outspoken critic of Dictator Erdogan. So, Erdogan might push all his chances through Interpol, which I believe he tries abusing it."
"Interpol should not let itself to get abused by any Dictator regime, including Erdogan's," Kanter added. "No matter whatever they do, I won't back down from my fight in the path of democracy, uplifting human rights and freedom of speech."
In January, when Kanter was with the Knicks, he did not travel to London for a game against the Washington Wizards, citing safety concerns.
"As President Erdogan continues taking Turkey down a dark, authoritarian road, Mr. Kanter is hardly the only person to face persecution," Wyden's letter to Trudeau reads. "But without his Turkish passport -- and not yet able to qualify for an American passport -- Mr. Kanter does find himself in a particularly tenuous legal position resulting from being a public person using his bully pulpit to speak out against a dangerous bully."
"I have instructed my staff to work with our administration to ensure that Mr. Kanter could travel safely to Canada and return unimpeded in the event of a Portland-Toronto NBA series," the letter reads. "I urge your government to ensure the same with respect to Mr. Kanter's ability to enter Canada, play in Canada, and then return safely and expeditiously to the United States. I also urge you to state publicly that your government will ignore any red notice against Mr. Kanter."
Kanter is in the process of becoming a United States citizen, but he won't have that finalized until 2021.
With the Blazers in the Western Conference finals, Turkish broadcaster S Sport will not televise the series against the Golden State Warriors.
"I can say clearly that we will not be broadcasting the Warriors-Blazers series," S Sport commentator Omer Sarac told Reuters. "Furthermore, if Portland makes it to the Finals, [that] will not be broadcast either. ... This situation is not about us, but it is what it is."
According to NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum, "Fans in Turkey can watch all playoff games featuring Enes Kanter and the Portland Trail Blazers on NBA League Pass and NBA TV International."