The original request, made in April, was for the city to declare May 13 Falun Dafa Day in Ottawa, which coincides with World Falun Dafa Day.
However, after the city’s protocol office informed the Ottawa Falun Dafa group that the mayor would proclaim the day, O’Brien refused to sign.
Both acting mayor Michel Bellemare—who temporarily replaced O’Brien while he faced bribery charges—as well as former mayor Bob Chiarelli had granted the proclamation in two previous years. O’Brien had also issued a proclamation himself in a previous year.
The mayor had recently returned from a trade mission to China where at least one deal with an Ottawa technology business was signed.
Although initially O’Brien did not explain why he wouldn’t sign the proclamation, he eventually stated that it was “in the interest of maintaining and developing a continuing stronger economic relation with a country that’s going to be important to our future,” according to the Ottawa Citizen.
Councillor Alex Cullen told the Citizen that when he asked the mayor why he would not sign the proclamation, O’Brien answered, “I made a commitment.”
When councillors learned that O’Brien had refused to sign the proclamation, several expressed their surprise, and Cullen stepped forward to table a motion to proclaim Falun Dafa Day.
“We’re talking about people who are residents here in the city of Ottawa who contribute to our community and I don’t understand why he [O’Brien] would change his mind,” Cullen told The Epoch Times.
O’Brien was not present at the council meeting on Wednesday when councillors unanimously passed the motion.
Falun Dafa, also called Falun Gong, is a spiritual practice founded on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance that was first introduced to the public in China in 1992.
The practice rapidly grew in popularity and some members of the Chinese communist regime saw it as a threat. In 1999, then-leader Jiang Zemin declared that he would “eradicate” Falun Gong, and adherents in China have been persecuted ever since.
Over the years, Falun Gong practitioners have expressed concern that the communist regime has constantly tried to influence overseas governments not to support Falun Gong in their countries. Like Cullen, many officials stand their ground and refuse to comply.
The motion was seconded by Councillor Peggy Feltmate, who said she was “very pleased that [the councillors] have recognized the contributions to the community of the Falun Dafa—Falun Gong—group.”
She disagreed with O’Brien’s refusal to sign the proclamation.
“We are a legitimate, elected-by-the-people government, with the right to make our own decisions,” she said. “I feel that it is very disappointing that [the Chinese regime] tried to influence in Canada what we think and how we act.”
“The mayor should not be coerced into doing or not doing something by any outside government,” said Jim Watson, a former mayor of Ottawa and a mayoral candidate in the upcoming municipal elections in October.
“Human rights should always trump economic development. This is a matter of human rights, the right to proclaim a day in recognition of Falun Gong, and Mr. O’Brien made the wrong decision by folding to some kind of pressure by someone outside of our own country,” Watson said.
“I don’t know who [O’Brien] made a commitment to. I don’t think it was very wise of him to do so,” agreed Cullen.