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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

City continues court fight against Falun Gong

Granville Street shack subject of upcoming B.C. Supreme Court hearing

Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier

Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The city will go to court in June in another attempt to have Falun Gong practitioners remove their makeshift signs and shack outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street, says a city spokesman.

Joseph Li said Monday that the city's law department will participate in a hearing related to a petition the city filed in B.C. Supreme Court two years ago. The hearing comes after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in April that the case will not go to trial--as requested by the Falun Gong.

The hearing is scheduled for three days beginning June 23.

The Falun Gong has occupied a shack outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street since 2001.View Larger Image View Larger Image

The Falun Gong has occupied a shack outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street since 2001.

Photo-Dan Toulgoet

Lawyer Clive Ansley, acting on behalf of the Falun Gong, said the group since filed a statement of claim in B.C. Supreme Court in attempt to quash the hearing. Ansley said the group wanted a trial so witnesses, including Mayor Sam Sullivan, could be called and cross-examined.

"The apparent enforcement of this bylaw is for completely illegitimate reasons and it's really to restrict the freedom of expression of Canadian citizens because their expressed views are making the Chinese government uncomfortable," Ansley said.

The Falun Gong alleges in documents filed in court that Sullivan ordered the structures be removed because of pressure from the Chinese government. David Hurford, assistant to Sullivan, said Monday the mayor won't comment on the case because it is before the courts.

The Falun Gong has held a round-the-clock vigil on the 3300-block Granville Street since 2001. Several of its large signs and a small shack are on city property, just off the sidewalk.

The practitioners built the structures to protest what they say is the Chinese government's persecution of the Falun Gong in China. The Chinese government calls the group a cult while the consulate has left the matter in the hands of the city.

In June 2006, the Courier reported about the mayor's wish to remove the structures. At the time, Sullivan dismissed a connection between his request and the Chinese government's disdain for the Falun Gong. Sullivan said his request was simply related to the group contravening a city bylaw.

"I hope that they will recognize that this is nothing against them," the mayor said.

In her ruling last month, Madam Justice Mary Humphries concluded the city is doing nothing more than enforcing its bylaw that prevents obstructions on city streets.

"It is not a bylaw concerned with regulating expression in which the city might be seen to have engaged in debate about the substance of a particular viewpoint or political ideology," Humphries wrote. "Even though the applicants say the effect of the enforcement is to interfere with their rights under the Charter to express themselves, the city has not taken issue with the substance of importance of the message the applicants wish to convey."

Since the Falun Gong began its vigil, the Vancouver Police Department has received at least two reports of assaults on practitioners who were sitting in the shack. Police did not establish a motive.

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