A group of Falun Gong practitioners in Ottawa is crying foul after their application to participate in an event that was part of Asian Heritage Month was cancelled because a sponsor threatened to pull out if the group took part.
The group, whose application to participate in the 2008 “Health is Wealth Fair” was initially accepted and confirmed, was informed by email three days before the event that their booth was cancelled due to lack of space.
But Sally Zhang, a committee member of the Asian Health Coalition which coordinated the fair, told Falun Gong practitioner Kay Lee in a phone conversation that the booth was cancelled because the Chinese Community Centre, a sponsor of the event, threatened to withdraw if the Falun Gong group participated.
An attempt to participate in this year’s fair was also rejected. Lee has since filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, citing discrimination by Zhang and the Asian Health Coalition.
“We have been very hurt having been discriminated against by a government employee and excluded from a government-partnered event solely based on our creed. In the past, our group has participated in countless health fairs without incident,” Lee wrote in her application to the tribunal.
Lee stated that Zhang, a public health nurse with the City of Ottawa, mentioned “repeatedly” during their phone conversation that it was not just her decision but a “group decision” to cancel Falun Gong’s participation.
The application also states that Falun Gong practitioner Minh Dao attended the fair where Zhang reiterated that the Falun Gong—as well as some other groups—were refused entry because of a lack of space.
When Dao asked for the names of the other groups, Zhang “got upset and said she didn’t need to tell her.” Upon walking through the fair, Dao said she noticed that there was “plenty of space available” as well as some booths selling products that were not health-related.
Other sponsors of the health fair were Ottawa Public Health and the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Barry Campbell, media spokesperson with the City of Ottawa, said the city was not involved in the decision to exclude the Falun Gong group from the health fair. The Asian Heritage Month Society did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Lucy Zhou of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada (FDAC), this is just one in a long string of incidents that continue to occur in Canada “as a result of the extension of the systematic persecution of Falun Gong.”
“Falun Gong practitioners in Canada, in Ottawa, have been facing constant pressure from the Chinese Embassy, which tries to ostracize the group in the Chinese community and also in the society at large.”
Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese meditation practice praised by devotees for its health benefits. The Chinese regime launched a persecution against its adherents in July 1999.
Zhou says that over the last ten years a “hate campaign” against Falun Gong—directed by the Chinese Embassy and consulates—has been taking place in Chinese communities in Ottawa and other cities. This has resulted in many instances of discrimination, she says.
In a similar incident that made headlines last May, a performance by the Tian Guo Marching Band at the Tulip Festival in Ottawa was cancelled at the last minute because of organizers' concerns that the band's presence might “upset” Chinese Embassy officials who had a tent at the festival.
After the incident whipped up a media storm, festival organizers issued an official apology to the band and invited them to perform at another venue in the festival. The band, which is composed entirely of Falun Gong practitioners, also played at this year’s festival.
In January 2006, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Ottawa Chinese Senior’s Association discriminated when it terminated the membership of Daiming Huang, a 73-year-old Canadian citizen, because she practises Falun Gong
The tribunal ruled that the practice of Falun Gong constitutes a form of creed, protected within the framework of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Toronto resident Cathy Liu was fired from her job also because she practices Falun Gong. Liu worked at Bond International College, a private school in Toronto that has contracts to train Chinese government officials and teachers.
In her complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Liu alleged that her protests in front of the Chinese Consulate in Toronto to raise awareness about the persecution in China upset Ping Tan, the owner of the school. Tan has close ties to the consulate and sat on the board of the Bank of China.
Liu also filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The case went to remediation.
Zhou says that because of “numerous incidents” of discrimination over the last ten years, Falun Gong practitioners have been forced to take action to protect their basic rights.
“It’s not just a fight for ourselves. If the perscution by a foreign regime is allowed to be extended to this country to target a certain group, then this could happen to other groups that are targets of foreign regimes.”
Consulate and embassy officials also put a lot of effort into persuading politicians at the federal, provincial and municipal levels to discriminate against Falun Gong, the threat being that failing to do so could jeopardize Canada-China trade relations.
Many city councilors across Canada routinely receive letters from Chinese diplomats asking them not to grant proclamations declaring Falun Dafa Day or Falun Dafa Week. These letters invariably come with warnings that passing such a motion could have negative effects on business and cooperation between China and that particular city.
The Chinese regime has been known to throw its weight around in other countries as well.
Former Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin, who defected from the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney, Australia, said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tries to control not only overseas Chinese organizations, Chinese student associations, and overseas Chinese media, but also government officials of other countries.
“The CCP always tries to buy foreign officials by treating them exceptionally,” Chen said during a visit to Vancouver in 2007.
“When I was working at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, one of my tasks was to exert pressure on Australian government officials on the Falun Gong issue. It is impossible that a Western official didn't have any pressure from the CCP on the Falun Gong issue."
According to Chen, measures that have been taken to suppress Falun Gong outside China include large-scale anti-Falun Gong propaganda campaigns, putting pressure on officials, and inciting the Chinese community and Chinese students to ostracize and discriminate against practitioners.
FDAC’s Zhou says such incidents such show that the discrimination and hate propaganda disseminated by Beijing is entering mainstream Canadian society.
She says she hopes the City of Ottawa and the Asian Heritage Month Society “help to correct the wrong, to correct this issue which should not have been allowed to occur.”
“The fact that the Ottawa Falun Gong practitioners have been discriminated against in this government partnered events is counter the spirit of building a tolerant and multi-culture society through this Asian Heritage Month.”