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Monday, May 12, 2008

Hypocrisy blooms at tulip fest

By PETER WORTHINGTON

Edmonton Sun: A certain amount of hypocrisy is inevitable (perhaps even necessary) in personal and public lives, but when overdone it is not only embarrassing but destructive to those who indulge in it.

For example, it was probably distasteful to the Queen to host Rumania's Nicolae Ceausescu, prior to his being summarily executed by his own people, as it was awkward for then-president George H.W. Bush to be reminded he'd once praised Ceausescu's "respect for human rights." Hypocritical, perhaps, but a hazard of the job.

Canada's good (and profitable) relations with Taiwan didn't deter us from banning Taiwan from competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics in order to appease China to whom we sold wheat and because PM Pierre Trudeau hero-worshipped Mao.

So hypocrisy and double-standards are nothing new.

Though of little international significance, a recent example of hypocrisy and cowardice was the organizers of the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa reneging on an invitation to have a celebrated Chinese marching band play O Canada and The Maple Leaf Forever, minutes before they were to appear on stage.

Apparently the Chinese embassy in Ottawa objected to the Tian Guo Marching Band because it is linked to Falun Gong, a benign, meditative philosophy that China banned as an enemy in 1999 because it was more popular than the communist party.

FALUN GONG

Beijing has been persecuting and harassing Falun Gong practitioners ever since -- not only putting practioners in jail, but allegedly "harvesting" their vital organs for sale to rich people needing transplants. China denies this but has admitted criminals on death-row (of which there are thousands) often have executions delayed until there are customers for their body parts.

Human rights groups, the European Union and others are compiling evidence of China selling the body organs of dissidents -- a practice suspended for the Olympics.

According to Epoch Times, which keeps a close eye on China and specializes in covering human rights issues, the marching band offered to remove hats, scarves and jackets that showed the Falun Gong motif. Festival organizers initially thought this a sensible compromise, but the Chinese embassy said no way -- off with their heads (rhetorically speaking).

So Ottawans were denied hearing this unusual band, which has won awards, including the Canada Day Parade President's trophy and the Best Band award in Ottawa's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Federal, provincial and municipal governments sponsor the Tulip Festival, and in 2002 had banned the Tian Guo Band from the Flotilla Parade down the Rideau canal.

Again, Chinese embassy pressure. Public reaction got the ban revoked, despite embassy protests.

This year, the band's three performances at Dow's Lake have also been cancelled.

At a press conference, band member Grace Wollensak said what festival organizers did was "exactly the kind of thing people escape China to get away from."

She added: "Canada is respected worldwide as a beacon of tolerance. When people are banned from playing O Canada in Canada's capital for fear of offending Chinese communists, it damages our nation's esteem in the world."

That's putting it mildly.

While this isn't a big story, it reveals a form of misguided political correctness that infects our national psyche and the thinking of those in power. Will we next revoke the Dalai Lama's honorary Canadian citizenship because Beijing considers him "a dangerous separatist?" Don't laugh -- it could happen.

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