The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled recently that a Montreal Chinese newspaper had defamed Falun Gong believers after publishing a series of articles that demonized the group.
The court determined that La Presse Chinoise and its owner, Crescent Chau, made "misleading and defamatory" statements when they accused, without proof, "certain people of criminal and perverted acts."
The case began when the Falun Gong adherents sued the paper over the articles in 2001. An earlier ruling by the Superior Court found the articles did not qualify as defamation, but this latest judgment reversed that decision.
The ruling was a vindication for the members of the group, as many of the slurs published by Chau parroted the propaganda of the Communist regime in China, which persecutes Falun Gong and has used anti-Falun Gong propaganda to justify its repression.
But the court found the articles attacked Falun Gong on the whole, rather than the 18 individual appellants, though several appellants had been named in the articles.
The court ruled the individual practitioners could not claim damages.
"The fact that certain appellants were designated [by La Presse Chinoise ] as followers of the movement did not create for them a special prejudice, since Falun Gong is not a secret society and its followers are not opposed to labeling themselves as such," the ruling stated.
Nevertheless, Claude-Armand Sheppard, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, believes the defamation finding is a positive aspect of the ruling despite the rejection of the appeal.
"We are happy that the court recognizes that this was defamation," says Lucy Zhou, one of the plaintiffs and a spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Association of Canada.
"All the same, we are also let down . . . we are neglected by the system. No measure has been taken to protect this benign group, which is being viciously defamed." Zhou is referring to, among other things, a part of the decision taken by the court to not grant an injuction preventing La Presse Chinoise from continuing to publish offensive content. "We will try to find other avenues to be protected by the legal system," she adds.
Winnipeg-based human rights lawyer David Matas says some of the options available to the group would be to "go before a human rights commission or to solicit the Attorney general, asking him for approval to launch a hate crimes lawsuit."
Since 2001 La Presse Chinoise has been publishing articles defaming Falun Gong and calling on the Montreal Chinese community to denounce it. Crescent Chau himself has declared that he is on a personal "crusade" against Falun Gong.
"All Chinese inside and outside of China are facing the possible harm that Falun Gong activities can bring to our Chinese nationality; in the areas that you can reach, for the protection of national uprightness and vitality, let's unite in solemnly denouncing them," stated the Chinatown-based weekly.
In addition to attempting to rally the Chinese community against Falun Gong in Montreal and elsewhere, the paper has stated many times that the practitioners of the discipline have links to organized crime or commit immoral acts without providing proof.
Expert testimony from a Montreal professor debunked the slurs.
"It is clear that La Presse Chinoise cooperates with the Chinese embassy and consulate and that this newspaper has become the henchman and the propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party," says Chen Yonglin, an ex-diplomat of the Chinese consulate in Sydney, Australia. Crescent Chau has denied these accusations.
On a visit to Canada last year, Chen warned that Chinese spies and front organizations are widespread here, including those targeting groups persecuted by the regime in China.
Since the crackdown on Falun Gong by the regime in 1999, hundreds of thousands of practitioners have been sent to forced labor camps and tortured and at least 3,000 have died in detention.
According to an investigative report by Matas and former Canadian MP David Kilgour, 42,000 organs used in transplantation cannot be accounted for through any normal sources of supply. Kilgour and Matas conclude these organs most likely came from Falun Gong practitioners. They say the hate campaign against Falun Gong has made such crimes possible.