Vancouver Falun Gong practitioners are scrambling to save their protest site at the Chinese consulate on Granville Street after it was ordered dismantled within a week by a B.C. Supreme Court ruling last Thursday.
The court upheld the City of Vancouver’s application seeking an injunction to remove the hut and billboards which have been part of Falun Gong’s round-the-clock vigil at the consulate since 2001.
However, the group is appealing, and in an effort to keep the vigil going until the appeal is heard, their lawyer, Clive Ansley, says an application has been made to the court for a “stay of proceedings” to be decided Friday.
“The vigil should be removed on Thursday but the city solicitor has agreed that they won’t take any action until the court has had a chance to rule on our application for a stay. If we get our application then the vigil will remain until the appeal is heard. If we lose on the application on Friday then they will take it down,” Ansley says.
At a rally and press conference outside the consulate on Wednesday, Falun Gong practitioners called on Mayor Gregor Robertson to allow the structures to remain until the court hears their appeal. The group plans to gather at the site again on Thursday, day 2724 of the vigil.
The Falun Gong say the site helps raise awareness and bears witness to the tens of thousands who have been tortured and murdered since the Chinese regime outlawed the spiritual practice in July 1999.
“The site constitutes a monument to human rights which should be the pride of the city, and it has been regarded as such by people of conscience and by human rights activists,” says Falun Gong spokesperson Sue Zhang.
Speaking at the rally, Fred Muzin, former provincial president of the Hospital Employees Union, said getting rid of the site “erodes democracy.”
“When countries such as the Chinese government massacre people, when they murder people to harvest organs, it is very important that the world community shine a light on the atrocities that are going on. If not, we don’t have a civil society.”
While Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein made it clear in her ruling that she was referring only to the signs and hut and not any other forms of protest used in the vigil, Falun Gong’s lawyer Joseph Arvay said the protest wouldn’t be nearly as effective without these structures, which “are on a strip of dirt that nobody uses” and are not blocking the sidewalk.
“It’s kind of ridiculous that the city says they can be there with their signs every day marching up and down the sidewalk—in which case they will obstruct the sidewalk—but they can’t be there with their hut and the billboards which doesn't obstruct anyone.”
The hut has played a key role in allowing the silent protesters to be there day and night, says Arvay.
Stromberg-Stein stated in the judgment that she accepted that former Mayor Sam Sullivan wanted the structures removed in 2006 “as part of his public order agenda” and not “because of the sensitivities of the Chinese government.”
Arvay and Ansley had argued that Sullivan wanted the structures removed at the behest of the Chinese regime and that Chinese consulate officials had pressured Sullivan to get rid of the protest.
A report written by a Chinese spy operating in Canada suggested that due to successful lobbying by Beijing, the Canadian government had pressed the City of Vancouver to remove the protest. This is according to a June 2005 statement by Hao Fengjun, a Chinese defector who sought political asylum in Australia.
The Falun Dafa Association of Canada has said that many cities in Canada and around the world with similar displays outside consulates and embassies have faced pressure from Chinese authorities.
In a letter to the mayor and council, former federal NDP candidate Dale Jackaman said he hopes the city will furnish a “suitable permit” for the protest to continue until the B.C. Court of Appeal hears the case.
“This site is a visible reminder to all Canadians, if not the world, that we can and do stand up against tyranny, oppression and censorship—something far and away more important than the enforcement of a sidewalk usage bylaw,” Jackaman wrote.
Although the Vancouver practitioners had vowed to continue the vigil until the persecution of their counterparts in China ended, Zhang said the group will “definitely abide by the ultimate decision of the Canadian judiciary.”
“We have always promised to obey the law and abide by the decision of the courts, there has been no change in this position,” she says.
Ansley is hopeful the court will grant the stay. “I’m definitely optimistic. I think we meet all the tests that are required in order to get a stay in these circumstances.”