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Sunday, November 02, 2008

City goes to court to remove Falun Gong protest shelter

Allison Cross, Vancouver Sun

Published: Sunday, November 02, 2008

VANCOUVER - The City of Vancouver will be in B.C. Supreme Court Monday in an attempt to finally remove the small blue shelter and makeshift billboard that has sat on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street for the past seven years.

This will be the fifth time that the Falun Dafa Association and the city will meet in court over the sprawling display, which is occupied around the clock by at least one person.

The structure is made up of a shelter and 20 metres of painted blue plywood plastered with signs and photos condemning the alleged persecution of Falun Gong followers in China, where the spiritual practice is illegal.

This Fulan Gong structure has sat on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street for the past seven years.View Larger Image View Larger Image

This Fulan Gong structure has sat on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street for the past seven years.

Peter Battistoni/Vancouver Sun
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Mayor Sam Sullivan first ordered the structure dismantled in 2006, saying it was built without permission from the city and blocked the sidewalk.

But the Falun Dafa Association of Vancouver balked at the request, saying dismantling the shelter would constitute a violation of their freedom of speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Some criticized Sullivan, accusing him of succumbing to pressure from the Chinese government to shut down the display. Sullivan said he was ensuring the display wasn't contravening city bylaws.

The city later filed a B.C. Supreme Court petition to have it removed.

The parties have been to court at least four times before to deal with procedural matters, said Clive Ansley, counsel for the Falun Dafa Association of Vancouver.

"We're glad to see that it's finally going to be addressed on its merits at the hearing," Ansley told The Vancouver Sun on Sunday. "I think both sides have made their positions public for some time, and we'll finally get a ruling on it."

Ansley said the issue of free speech is particularly important in this case, given the grave allegations that Chinese authorities are mass murdering and torturing Falun Gong followers and harvesting their organs.

A spokesman said Sullivan's office would not comment on the case while it is before the courts.

Port Moody's Sue Zhang said she has spent five to seven hours in front of the consulate every week for the past five years.

"The site we set up, the purpose of it is to let more people know the brutal persecution of Falun Gong," Zhang said. "This is a very serious issue of genocide."

She worries that if the structure is dismantled, the protest simply won't be as effective.

"It is very difficult to carry an effective sign [that] hangs on your neck. Many of us are elderly people," she said.

Many people don't know about the persecution of Falun Gong followers, Zhang said, despite their presence on Granville Street 24 hours a day.

"The Community party, that regime, is spreading hate propaganda and information blockage," she said. "[Access to] the brutality is blocked. Even when we publicize it, they still can't believe it."

Exercises, meditation and moral philosophy are some of the elements that define the spiritual practice of Falun Gong, sometimes called Falun Dafa.

Practitioners say nearly 3,000 Chinese have been tortured to death as a result of their faith since the movement became popular in 1992.

The hearing is expected to last seven days.

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