Montreal Falun Gong practitioners were told they were not allowed to participate in the city’s popular St. Patrick’s Day parade last Sunday because they are “political.”
An email from Beverly Murphy, VP of organization with the United Irish Societies of Montreal, to Falun Gong coordinator Zhu Ying, said the group will not be allowed entry “due to the political nature of your contingent.”
Ying, however, believes pressure was put on parade organizers by the Chinese embassy to bar the Falun Gong contingent, which includes the Tian Guo Marching Band. The group has participated in the parade for the last five years.
“One of their committee members told our practitioners clearly that they received a letter from the Chinese embassy. That was after the parade in 2008. But this person did not want his name to be made public.”
Gerald Showers, spokesperson for United Irish Societies of Montreal, denies this.
“That’s not true. We were never contacted by any government. We tried to just tell them were an open book and there’s no Chinese government that’s going to tell us who we should or should not have in the parade.”
In an email exchange between Murphy and Ying, Murphy wrote: “You mention that you have handed out these pamphlets in previous parades but it was not brought to our attention until after last year’s parade.”
The issue of the letter from the Chinese embassy was raised by Chengzhi Jin during a meeting with the organizing committee on March 12 which Ying attended.
“Their [the committee’s] lawyer, McConomy Leverman, said, ‘I’m warning you, be very careful what you say,’” Ying says.
Showers insists the group has been excluded because Falun Gong practitioners handed out pamphlets at last year’s parade.
“We invited them to a meeting to explain our position,” he says. “I said, ‘I may sympathize with you but the parade is not the place to voice your opinion or your concerns about what’s going on in China.’”
Ying says the group likes to hand out flyers to raise awareness of the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong adherents in China. However, an offer to not hand out pamphlets during the parade this year did not change the committee’s decision, she says.
Falun Dafa Association of Canada spokesperson Lucy Zhou says the group is not political but rather works to expose the ill treatment of their counterparts at the hands of the Chinese regime.
“Trying to protect and raise awareness about the human rights of innocent people in China does not make Falun Gong a political group, and it should therefore not be shut out of any event in Canada including a St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
Zhou says the Chinese embassy and consulates have a history of interfering with events that include Falun Gong.
Last May, organizers of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival dropped the Tian Guo Marching Band, scheduled to perform at the opening ceremony, for fear of upsetting the Chinese embassy, as the embassy had partially funded the event.
Speaking in the Ontario provincial legislature at the time, 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,” he said.
After the incident whipped up a media storm, festival organizers issued an official apology and allowed the band to play.
Zhu says there are plans to take the current matter before a human rights tribunal, adding that she finds it odd that after five years the group is suddenly banned from the Montreal parade.
“It’s so weird. We always had a good relationship with them [the organizers].”