Globe&Mail: As they prepared to vote on a bylaw that would limit Falun Gong protests outside the Chinese consulate, Vancouver city councillors heard harrowing tales of persecution faced by sect members, both in China and locally.
Ray Zhang recounted Tuesday how a gun was placed to his head during an assault on him by three men, as he maintained a dawn vigil at the Falun Gong protest hut in the summer of 2007.
Mr. Zhang had to be treated in hospital after the attack, which left him with facial bruises and a bloody left eye.
Echoing other councillors, Geoff Meggs told Mr. Zhang he found the incident “deeply disturbing.”
Constable Lindsey Houghton said Vancouver police carried out a lengthy investigation of the assault on Mr. Zhang. The probe involved major crime, forensics and the department’s diversity section.
But none of the evidence led to an arrest and the case is now closed, Constable Houghton said.
Council also heard from Falun Gong practitioner Cindy Song, who said she came to Canada three years ago because of her treatment in China.
Ms. Song said she was sentenced to three years in a labour camp for following Falun Gong, a form of meditation and spiritual philosophy that is banned by Chinese authorities.
For 13 months, she was held in solitary confinement “and beaten with big wooden sticks,” she said.
Mr. Zhang and Ms. Song were among a dozen speakers who addressed council on its controversial proposed bylaw to govern street protests.
Most spoke against the new regulations, prompted by a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that the city’s attempt to get rid of Falun Gong’s permanent protest structure outside the Chinese consulate violated freedom of expression rights.
The revised bylaw would permit a Falun Gong hut, but only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and its allowable size would be significantly diminished.
“Peaceful protest doesn’t hurt anyone,” said Ms. Song, opposing the restrictions.
Long-time activist Garth Mullins began his remarks by “crouching in solidarity” with Falun Gong, referring to the maximum 1.3 metres in height the recommended bylaw provides for approved protest structures. “I don’t think city staff would like it in there very much.”
He urged council to delay passage of the bylaw to allow more public consultation.
The bylaw is being hurried through to meet a court-imposed deadline to have one in place by Tuesday. But Mr. Mullins said council should petition the court for an extension of “two months, four months … forever.”
A surprise presentation came from one-time Liberal MP, ex-Vancouver Sun reporter and Order of Canada recipient Simma Holt.
Ms. Holt referred to late media personalities, radio hot-liner Jack Webster and renowned Sun columnist Jack Wasserman. “If they had been here, they would have been yelling against this bylaw,” she said.
“I feel very strongly for these beautiful people [Falun Gong]. They simply sit there peacefully and do exercises and bother no one.”
Terms of the new bylaw are also opposed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which did not send a representative to the council meeting.
Councillor Kerry Jang observed that the proposed bylaw should probably be altered in the future “but we have to pass something now.”
Earlier, several councillors pointed out that the city had to bring in bylaws that applied to all groups, not merely Falun Gong.
Debate was eventually adjourned until the evening, so that council could hold its regular Tuesday afternoon session.