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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Falun Gong prepares to restart protests outside Chinese consulate

Globe and Mail - A controversial protest hut that sat outside Vancouver’s Chinese consulate for years could soon return, say members of the Falun Gong community.

The Vancouver Falun Dafa Association held a news conference Wednesday to announce it has filed an application with the city for a permit that would resurrect the hut and a billboard.

The Falun Gong spiritual group started its round-the-clock vigil outside the consulate in 2001 to highlight what it calls persecution at the hands of the People’s Republic of China. The group has accused Chinese officials of jailing, torturing and executing many of its followers.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge last year ordered the Falun Gong to remove the structure and sign, which included pictures of people who allegedly had been tortured. The City of Vancouver had gone to court claiming the group broke a by-law because its hut encroached on the public sidewalk.

The B.C. Court of Appeal threw out the Supreme Court’s decision in October, ruling the city by-law restricting unapproved sidewalk structures violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The three-member appeal panel said the by-law did not provide sufficient protection for freedom of expression. It granted the city six months to redraft the by-law.

“We are committed to our efforts to raise awareness of the persecution in a peaceful way until it stops, and we now apply to the city ... for a permit allowing us to do so in an effective way,” Sue Zhang, the association’s spokeswoman, told reporters.

A city spokeswoman said she could not confirm the application had been received. She said a revised sidewalks by-law has yet to go before council.

Clive Ansley, the Falun Dafa Association’s lawyer, said he doesn’t expect any issues to arise from the application process.

“I would not expect much red tape, or obstacles,” he said.

Mr. Ansley said he did not know exactly when the permit application might be approved.

Ms. Zhang said closing down in the first place was of no benefit to the citizens of Vancouver or Canada. She said a majority of citizens support the Falun Gong’s right to protest.

The association also accused the Chinese consulate of pressuring city officials to have the protest removed, but did not provide any proof to support that claim.

The bid to remove the hut and billboard was launched after former mayor Sam Sullivan complained about its permanent place outside the consulate.

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