Tian Guo Band Responds to Tulip Festival's Discrimination and False Accusations
May 9, 2008
Tian Guo Marching Band was honoured in March to be invited to perform "O Canada" and "The Maple Leaf Forever" at the opening ceremony. Yet when 70 band members arrived at Major's Hill Park on May 2, Director Louise Thibault-Little publicly and angrily barred us from performing, asked us to leave, and even called the police. Our band members were shocked and distressed by this treatment. The child performers in our band were particularly traumatized, as they were very excited and proud to have been invited to play at the opening ceremony.
Following the incident, Tulip Festival Director Doug Little has continued to make false accusations against our band in his comments to the media. His comments are defamatory and irresponsible, and the decision to bar our band from performing at the festival because we are Falun Gong practitioners is discriminatory and degrading. We respond as follows:
1. Disclosure and Discrimination
A Metro report quoted Mr. Little saying that "If they had told us who they were, they would never have been asked to perform."
We did in fact tell festival organizers who we are. To apply to participate, we supplied to program coordinator Amanda Rorison our web link <www.tianguoband.org> which states that band members practise Falun Dafa. It also shows photos of past performances with band members wearing their uniforms displaying the words "Falun Dafa" and a link to a video of our performances in other community events. We wore exactly the same uniform to perform at the Tulip Festival, and our website and video both show that our band has a Falun Dafa banner. When Ms. Rorison confirmed our participation, she told us she had read all the information we sent.
At the same time there should be no obligation for applicants to disclose their faith, and it would be discriminatory to deny our participation because we practise Falun Gong. Mr. Little's statement that we would never have been asked to perform had the festival known we were Falun Gong practitioners is itself discriminatory. Falun Gong practitioners should have equal right to participate. We have a right to our belief and should be treated with dignity and not be discriminated against.
Yet festival official Louise Thibault-Little publicly berated our band members, subjected us to demeaning remarks, ordered us to leave, and even called the police when we in fact had an invitation to perform. After the incident Mr. Little continued to make unfair and defamatory comments to the media further subjecting our band members and Falun Gong practitioners in general to contempt and a loss of dignity and good standing in the community.
A CanWest article reported that Mr. Little stated, "I think this was a staged stunt on their part, and they are good at that."
The fact is our band applied to perform at the festival's Dow's Lake events, but we did not apply to play at the opening ceremony at Major's Hill Park. After reviewing our submission, it was program coordinator who invited us to play "O Canada" and "The Maple Leaf Forever" at the opening ceremony. The suggestion that we are good at staged stunts is a gratuitous slur against innocent community volunteers. We have never staged a stunt at any time.
The organizer said our band was named "Tian Guo" but band members wore clothing displaying the words "Falun Dafa."
This statement is answered, in part, by our prior response about disclosure. Our uniform worn to the Tulip Festival was no different from our uniform in the photos in the web link sent to Ms. Rorison. We wore the same uniform as in the Ottawa St. Patrick's Day Parade in March this year.
We also say that there is nothing misleading in giving the band a name. Would the organizers call the name "Klezmer" misleading if band members wore a Star of David on their clothing?
Mr. Little said, "We do not allow protest groups. That is not what we are about."
We reiterate that our band had no intention of protesting at the festival. All we intended to do was play music. Neither our clothing nor our banner contained any statement of protest. Our band has performed in over 70 community events without protesting and has won many awards. For example at the 2008 Ottawa St. Patrick's Day Parade we were named "Best Band" (www.tianguoband.org/News/2008/2008-03-15-St.Patrick-Ottawa.html). We carried our band banner then as we do at all events in which we participate.
Falun Gong is not a protest group. It is not even a group. It is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation. The Chinese Communist Party, out of ideological envy at the popularity of Falun Gong, has brutally repressed, arbitrarily detained, and killed many Falun Gong practitioners. This, inevitably, has generated protest by all those concerned about human rights. The band has joined in on some of these protests.
Yet protest elsewhere of torture and killings should not be a ground for disqualification for participation in the Tulip Festival. By banning those who have protested elsewhere against human rights violations in China, the Tulip Festival becomes a voice for silencing those protests, and in fact becomes complicit in those violations. The Tulip Festival was meant to commemorate the Canadian liberation of Nazi repression in Holland. If it persists in banning our band, it will come to commemorate complicity in the Chinese communist repression of the Chinese people.
Mr. Little said, "We have a partnership with the Embassy of China and we felt this was not appropriate."
We submit that the Tulip Festival should not allow this partnership to influence its decisions about who participates. The partnership should not be a ground for banning those who have protested elsewhere about the Chinese regime's human rights violations. This gives the impression that the festival is catering to the Government of China, to avoid offending the Chinese regime by penalizing and keeping away those who have protested elsewhere the atrocities inflicted by the Chinese regime.
Suppose a pre-war festival allowed the participation of Jews despite a partnership with the Embassy of Nazi Germany. Would Mr. Little here too say "this was not appropriate"?
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The actions of a few Tulip Festival officials have infringed on the rights of our band members, discriminated against us, and caused great distress and loss of dignity to both our band and to Falun Gong practitioners in general. These actions have also damaged the reputation and integrity of the Tulip Festival among citizens who are concerned about discrimination and who cherish the festival's founding principle of International Friendship.
Tian Guo Marching Band requests that Tulip Festival organizers make a public apology to our band members and Falun Gong practitioners, reschedule our band to perform at the 2008 festival, and respect our right to fair and equal treatment in participation in the festival without discrimination.
For more information, please 613-852-7494.