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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tulip Festival taking things too far


Tulip Festival organizers certainly aren't tiptoeing through the tulips this year.

A marching band says it was kicked out of the program only minutes before it was supposed to perform O Canada at the opening festivities on Friday because festival organizers didn't want to offend officials from the Chinese embassy. The rest of its performances in the coming weeks were also cancelled.

It's international diplomacy gone horribly awry.

Indeed, festival marketing director Doug Little said the Tian Guo Marching Band was told it could not perform at the last minute because its members showed up with Falun Dafa scarves and the like. Had organizers, however, done their research, they would have found that this is what the band wears to every performance, including Ottawa's St. Patrick's Day parade and Easter parades in Toronto and Montreal, documented in photos on the group's website, which show a Falun Dafa banner carried out in front of the band. The website address was provided to festival organizers back in March.

Little says the festival is all about friendship, and that means friendship with all embassies with which it partners. Obviously that friendship doesn't extend to everyone.

The band members all practise Falun Dafa exercises and follow its creed of "Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance." The movement is banned in China.

But what happened here on Friday wasn't even an issue of free speech. It was about festival organizers failing to properly research an organization they felt in the end had "deceived" them.

The band says it was there to play, and not to hand out literature. So what's the problem?

Little said yesterday: "We have a partnership with the embassy of China and we felt this was not appropriate." He added, however, that the Chinese embassy had not actually asked for the band to be removed.

This is not a meeting of world leaders. It's a festival celebrating a flower. And the band that had been invited to play was not playing some Falun Dafa salute -- if such a thing even exists -- it was asked to play our national anthem.

On this matter, the festival that touts itself as one celebrating friendship has forgotten what that word means.

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