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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Falun Gong lose trial bid over protest camp, but vow to fight on

By Keith Fraser, The Province

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2008

VANCOUVER -- Falun Gong protesters outside this city's Chinese consulate have lost a second bid to get a full trial into issues surrounding the city's attempt to remove their protest camp.

But a lawyer for the protesters says the fight is far from over and says an appeal of the B.C. Supreme Court ruling is possible.

In 2006 the city filed a petition seeking to dismantle the protest signs and a small shed outside the Granville Street consulate that have been in place since 2001.

City officials argued that the protest camp, which is staffed by at least one protester at all times, violates a bylaw requiring structures to have city approval.

The protesters applied to have the matter heard as a trial, with witnesses testifying in court such as Mayor Sam Sullivan, rather than be limited to a hearing where lawyers argue the merits before a judge on the basis of affidavits filed.

They argued there were complex Charter of Rights issues involved but the city said the move was premature and the judge agreed in December 2006, noting that the case leant itself better to a petition hearing. The protesters appealed that ruling to the B.C. Court of Appeal, but the province's highest court upheld the lower court ruling.

Undaunted, the protesters went back to court in another attempt to hold a full trial, but a second judge, B.C. Supreme Court Madam Justice Mary Humphries, has ejected their application, saying there isn't much new in it from the previous case.

Joseph Arvay, a lawyer for the protesters, said that the group is disappointed but is considering a possible appeal or another move which he declined to elaborate on.

"We believe we're going to win this case no matter what -- whether it's a petition or a trial," he added.

Arvay said he believes the city is just caving in to pressure from Chinese officials threatening to withhold Canada as a designated spot for tourism.

"The city and the province and the federal government want tourism. They want the dollars and they're willing to sacrifice these important expressions of rights. Personally I think that's disgusting."

City officials could not be reached. The petition is scheduled to be heard in June.

Falun Gong has been described as a combination of exercise, meditation and spiritual belief.

Adherents claim there's been a well-documented genocide against their group by the Chinese government.

kfraser@png.canwest.com

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