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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Falun Gong Loses Ground

By Pete McMartin 02-02-2009

Vancouver Sun Blog: Late last week, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein ruled in her judgment, which can be read here, that gave the City of Vancouver the go-ahead to remove a row of billboards and a small shelter the Falun Gong had erected on a city-owned grass median in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street. I've written on the city's previous attempts to roust the Falun Gong away from the front of the Chinese consulate in a 2006 column you can read here, and again in a column for Tuesday's paper.

The city's preoccupation with the Falun Gong vigil, which the city has now pursued through the court for two years, and which promises to go on longer, since the Falun Gong will be filing an appeal, is always explained by the city as merely the wish to enforce its bylaw protecting the integrity of its streets. That integrity — so crucial, apparently, for a half-block strip along a residential area of south Granville — is compromised elsewhere by fruit stalls and sidewalk sandwich boards and ranks of newspaper boxes and bike stands and hot dog vendors all over town, but these uses, of course, are allowed under the city's bylaws. And lets not forget the nuisance of hundreds of beggars pedestrians must navigate around daily — beggars who often can be found on the same patch of sidewalk day after day.

But the passive and completely silent vigil protesting what the Falun Gong claims is institutionalized persecution by the Chinese government against them? This has inspired the city into action because the Falun Gong's row of billboards, and a yard-wide shack in which members can meditate in during inclement weather, sits on a city-owned grass median. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, the city has pursued this course despite the fact that in seven years only three documented complaints have been received. One of those complaints came from a consul general representing all the consulates in Vancouver, who fear, I guess, their own versions of Falun Gong-like shacks springing up on the medians in front of their consulates. Meanwhile, the Falun Gong protesters don't even do so much as litter. Passive? They make Gandhi look like a suicide bomber.

There are theories that have been suggested to explain why the city has moved against the Falun Gong, though these theories are impossible to prove. To appease the Chinese government. To appease the Chinese immigrant community. To remove potentially embarrassing public displays before the 2010 Olympics. Pick your conspiracy. The cause doesn't matter.

The effect does. What matters is the silence with which the city's move against the Falun Gong has been greeted. Where are the indignant howls of social activists? The angry editorials? The letters to the editor? Why, in a city that likes to think of itself as the centre of enlightened and virulent dissent, are there not more people who believe, who see, that there is more at stake here than the trespass of a few feet of city grass?

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