by Joan Delaney
|May 29, 2008|
The city council of a town on Vancouver Island has, for the first time in several years, failed to approve a proclamation for a meditation group — seemingly at the behest of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver.
As it routinely does each year, the Falun Dafa Association of Canada (FDAC) requested that council proclaim the month of May Falun Dafa Month in Port Alberni.
However this year, after a discussion on human rights in China, the vote split council three to four, with Mayor Ken McRae and two other councilors going on record as supporting human rights in accordance with the council's tradition.
Rather than being accepted, the application was merely received and filed.
A letter from Chinese Consul Yang Qiang, who visited Port Alberni in March, may have dissuaded some of the remaining councilors from endorsing the proclamation.
In the letter dated May 15 2008, Qiang defamed Falun Gong and urged Mayor McRae not to support Falun Dafa Month. Falun Gong is a meditation practice and spiritual discipline that has been brutally suppressed by the Chinese regime since 1999. Qiang wrote that Falun Gong is "a cult against the human race, science and society" that has been "deceiving people by concocting and spreading superstitious fallacies."
"I hope that, in light of the spirit of humanity and the good relations between our two countries, you won't support the Falun Gong's so-called "Falun Dafa Month"… and won't issue a proclamation…."
Mayor McRae says the letter didn't influence him because he's "always in favour of human rights" and Port Alberni has passed the proclamation in the past without any repercussions.
"I had no problem making that decision. I'm not going to let some country — because the consulate writes to me and says they don't want it done — change my mind. It's human rights and human rights is the number one thing in my category, always has been," says McRae.
Councilor Cindy Solda says she didn't vote for the proclamation simply because there was only one week left in May when the application arrived in front of council. The other councilors who abstained did not return calls seeking comment.
Councilor Jack McLeman says the Port Alberni City Council "has received letters from the PRC" other years as well. He says he would have voted to grant the proclamation.
"I don't like being threatened. I don't let people do that to me, I don't care who they are."
Winnipeg-based international human rights lawyer David Matas says the Chinese regime is "abusing its position in Canada" by trying to influence municipal governments.
"This is not the function of a foreign embassy to get involved in local government. As well, the people who voted against the proclamation are basically misinformed because they're relying on what the Chinese government says about the Falun Gong which is inaccurate and they shouldn't make decisions based on misinformation."
Matas adds that in some cases people's moral values "are being compromised by China's economic spread and what we see is a weakening of our commitment to human rights out of economic considerations and from my point of view that's really not appropriate."
According to FDAC, such letters from consulate officials are a common occurrence in Canada and other countries. In 2004 the Chinese consulate in Toronto wrote city councilors pressuring them to oppose a motion for the proclamation of a Falun Dafa Week.
The letter stated: "If passed, the motion will have a very negative effect on our future beneficial exchanges and cooperation."
The Toronto City Council ignored the threat and issued a proclamation, as did Andy Wells, Mayor of the City of St. John's, Newfoundland, in 2001.
Wells had received a letter from Mei Ping, the Chinese Ambassador to Canada at the time, defaming Falun Gong and asking him not to endorse an application for a proclamation.
In his reply, Wells, a member of Amnesty International, told Ping that the regime's "persecution of this innocent group exemplifies your government's moral and ethical bankruptcy.
"Thousands of innocent Falun Gong followers have been incarcerated, tortured, and some have been murdered by your government…. Why do you persecute harmless people? The answer is very simple. Your government has no democratic legitimacy, composed as it is by a self-appointed elite whose power rests on an illegitimate use of violence."
After Stan Bogosian, former mayor of Saratoga, California, issued a proclamation honouring the contributions Falun Gong practitioners had made to the community in 2001, he was asked by officials from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco to rescind the proclamation.
Not only did Bogosian refuse, he held a press conference to expose "this meddling in the affairs of our government," which he said bore an uncanny resemblance to the efforts of the Nazis in the 1930's to persuade the rest of the world that persecution of German citizens was not taking place.
"Today, as was also the case in 1930's Germany, major American corporations have significant investments in China. The temptation is to look the other way, to ignore what is happening because we are fearful of disrupting trade in an emerging market. If there is one lesson we should have learned from the 1930's, turning a blind eye to such events will cost us dearly in the long run," said Bogosian.
There are countless other examples of how Chinese embassy or consulate officials have tried over the years to interfere with Falun Gong practitioners and their activities and events.
According to the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, ways in which the Chinese regime has "mobilized its diplomatic missions abroad to export the persecution of Falun Gong around the world" include:
•Pressuring government officials and the public to withdraw their support for Falun Gong
•Refusing to renew passports or perform routine services for those who practice Falun Gong
•Supplying anti-Falun Gong propaganda to Canadian media
•Compiling and maintaining a blacklist of Canadian Falun Gong practitioners
•Sending hate-inciting materials to all levels of the Canadian government
•Inciting hatred in Chinese Canadian communities
•Attempting to silence criticism of China's human rights abuses against Falun Gong practitioners
FDAC is still hoping that Port Alberni will grant the proclamation says spokesperson Marie Beaulieu, despite the fact that the month of May is almost over.
"It's not too late for the City of Port Alberni to reconsider awarding the proclamation for Falun Dafa Month. Whether it's close to the end of May or not is irrelevant — what really matters is the principle.