By Joan Delaney
|May 13, 2008|
Organizers of Canada's Tulip Festival have formally apologized for abruptly pulling a performance by a marching band whose members practise Falun Gong.
Having invited the Tian Guo Marching Band to perform "O Canada" at the festival's opening ceremony on May 2, organizers cut the band just minutes before they were to take the stage, and called on police to have band members removed.
Statements from festival staff at the time suggested the group was dropped to avoid upsetting Chinese embassy officials who had a tent at the festival, which runs to May 19.
After the incident whipped up a media storm, festival organizers changed their tune and on Tuesday issued an official apology.
In a statement to media, festival chair David Luxton and president Teri Kirk expressed regrets over how the incident was handled.
"Unfortunately, the Festival's decision was made in haste in the moments before the official Opening," Ms. Kirk said
At the time, festival reps had taken issue with the band member's uniforms, which included the words "Falun Dafa," a spiritual group persecuted by the Communist regime in China. Falun Dafa is also known as Falun Gong.
"If they had told us who they were, they would never have been asked to perform," Mr. Little told the Metro newspaper.
But band members pointed out that they had provided the festival organizers with materials and photographs that showed their uniforms. They had also provided their website, which states clearly that band members are Falun Gong practitioners.
They added that they only intended to play music and expressed no political or human rights message. They said that being excluded from the event on the basis of their practise of Falun Gong amounted to discrimination.
"Comments in the media attributed to festival staff dealing with the incident exacerbated the feelings of grievance by band members, which the festival regrets," said Luxton.
Little also apologized for his comments to the press.
"I am very sorry that my remarks have not reflected well on band members, on Falun Gong or the festival. I extend my heartfelt apologies to the Tian Guo Marching Band and to each one of its members," said Little.
The festival also "re-extended its invitation" to the band to perform at the Festival, giving them the 1–2:00 pm slot on Sunday at Dow's Lake.
"We certainly support the right of religious groups to bring forward diverse views." said Kirk.
The Tian Guo band accepted the apologies after meeting with the festival's executives over the weekend.
In response being dropped from the opening ceremony, Tian Guo said in a news release that for a civic festival to exclude "ordinary Canadian citizens from participation in order to please a foreign repressive government is not only discrimination, it also gives the impression that the festival condones the severe human rights violations committed by the repressive regime."
The band also said that "the actions of a few Tulip Festival officials … caused great distress and loss of dignity to both our band and to Falun Gong practitioners in general. These actions have also damaged the reputation and integrity of the Tulip Festival."
The Tulip Festival is sponsored by all three levels of government.
Speaking in the Ontario provincial legislature on Monday, MPP Randy Hiller said that, "the Ottawa Tulip Festival, in partnership with the Embassy of China, banned Falun Gong."
"This government gave the tulip festival $300,000 and with it they became the latest voice of silence," said Hiller.
On Tuesday, he applauded the decision to allow Tian Guo to perform.
"It is important when people do the wrong things that sensible honest people tell them that they are wrong and encourage them to do the right thing," he said. It's a minimum for them to apologize for their wrongdoings."
Tian Guo has performed in about 40 parades in the past 18 months and has won numerous prizes including the top award of "The Canada Day Parade President's Trophy" in Montreal in 2007 and "Best Band" in the Ottawa St. Patrick's Day parade in March.
"We know that Festival audiences will enjoy both the visual and musical appeal of this large and colourful marching band," said Ms. Kirk.