A familiar sight in Vancouver is the Falun Gong protest outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street. At the behest of City Hall, a hearing took place in the B.C. Supreme Court recently to determine the fate of the 7-year round-the-clock peaceful appeal. The court has yet to hand down its decision.
This protest site is definitely unique. It is a Vancouver icon by now, a symbol of Canada’s tolerance for human rights. The signs and banners affixed to the consulate fence tell of brutalities that are truly horrifying — brutalities experienced by hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners incarcerated for their belief in China.
These stories, such as deaths due to force feeding with concentrated salt or human feces and urine, or burning with hot iron rods, or the harvesting of organs from live practitioners for profit, represent exactly the facts that the Chinese authorities do not want the world to know.
This is the reason why the site must remain — it highlights the crimes of the Chinese regime against Falun Gong. Former Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin launched a crackdown in 1999 because he feared the rapid growth of the spiritual practice as it swept China in the 1990s.
Vancouver Falun Gong practitioners have said they plan to continue the appeal until the persecution ends. They want to keep the issue in the public awareness so that lives can be saved, because if they did not keep up their efforts it is likely that nobody would know or care.
Practitioners have always applied for permits with the city, and this case was no different although the method of consent used by the city was different. The city proceeded in a very good way initially, through communication and understanding, without demanding an official permit.
This was evident in an e-mail presented in court that was written by city officials in response to a complaint. The e-mail clearly stated that the protest does not present any obstruction or safety concern but rather represents the freedom of expression of peoples' constitutional right to speak.
On another occasion in 2003, practitioners agreed to reduce the size of the signs at the request of the city, after which the city called to thank them for their cooperation.
With such mutual respect and cooperation, the protest continued for four years without any problem. Then there was a change of heart for whatever reason and the city decided that the site had to go, saying it violated a bylaw.
There is, however, a loophole. This particular bylaw, which prohibits permanent structures on city property, is not applied absolutely — there are exceptions. Structures such as newspaper boxes, bus shelters, hotdog stands and sandwich boards are all granted an exemption by the city.
In light of this, the city has the ability to issue practitioners a permit to continue the appeal until the persecution ends.
While the city has said the protest can continue but without the shelter and with hand-held signs, practitioners say that just won't work for them. They maintain fewer signs is symbolic of a win for those who persecute them, and any further reduction in the size of the signs would make it difficult for passing motorists to read them.
Vancouver practitioners have said that the protest site gives voice to their counterparts in China who have no voice under the totalitarian Chinese regime. It is a symbol of free speech in a free country. If the city were to succeed in removing the site, it would be a terrible loss to us all.