It was about 5.30 on the morning of August 2 when Raymond Zhang's meditation in a hut outside the Vancouver Chinese consulate was violently interrupted.
Three men approached on foot and began to tear down signs and a banner from the consulate fence. They then put a gun to Zhang's head, pulled the trigger repeatedly and started to punch him in the face and head.
"The gun was pointed at my left temple," says Zhang. "The guy pulled the trigger constantly and yelled 'Get way from here! Don't stay here!'"
The other two men joined in the assault, kicking holes in the side of the hut and punching and kicking Zhang in the stomach and head. The attack left Zhang, 33, with a fractured bone on the left side of his face, internal bleeding, and bruising.
The men were all Asian, and Falun Dafa Association of Canada (FDAC) spokesperson Sue Zhang says there's no doubt that the "cowardly act" was instigated by the communist regime in Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated a crackdown on Falun Gong in 1999, and has since been conducting a large-scale persecution of practitioners in China, she says.
Howard Chow of the Vancouver Police Department says that by the time police reached the protest site the attackers had already fled, and an investigation into the incident is under way.
A source who wishes to remain anonymous has revealed to the Epoch Times that the new Consul General, Yang Qiang, stated recently that he is "determined" to remove the Falun Gong appeal site from in front of the consulate.
Ms. Zhang believes the assault is yet another example of the "long arm of Beijing" reaching into Canada through its consulates, continuing a pattern of "intimidation and harassment against overseas practitioners."
"This is the Chinese Communist Party's way of expanding the persecution into Canada," she says. "This very violent and physical attack is another attempt to try to remove us from the consulate."
Vancouver Falun Gong practitioners have been holding a round-the-clock peaceful appeal outside the consulate on Granville Street for over six years now, and last August Raymond Zhang was again attacked and punched by Asian thugs, who then fled in an SUV. Other practitioners keeping vigil at the site have had eggs thrown at them from passing cars, and one was sprayed with an unknown liquid.
Across the country, many incidents of assault, intimidation and harassment toward Falun Gong practitioners have been reported over the years. These incidents often involve the Chinese embassy and consulates directly, or involve persons in the community directed by the Chinese officials, according to FDAC.
In 2001, Mr. Xueliang Wang was beaten inside the Ottawa embassy for taking a picture of a hate-display against Falun Gong. Rob Anders, MP, was roughed up in the House of Commons by Chinese embassy staff because he wore a t-shirt calling for an end to the persecution in China.
Reports filed at local police stations across the country detail barrages of harassing phone calls and email attacks originating in China to homes of practitioners in Canada. Practitioners say they have also been deprived of their legal rights and benefits, such as refusal or delay on the part of the consulates in issuing visas or renewing passports, and loss of membership in certain overseas Chinese organizations.
In March of this year, Ms. Jiyan Zhang, the wife of a Chinese diplomat in the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, defected and exposed the existence of a political office inside the embassy specifically for spying on and attacking Falun Gong and others considered dissidents in Canada.
"The Chinese Communist Party are thugs—they've proven that over and over again. They have no respect for human life and they believe they can bully people into doing anything," says Brian McAdam, ex-foreign diplomat and Asian organized crime expert.
McAdam says that with the sort of violence inflicted on Raymond Zhang, it's "crucial" that governments at all levels—particularly the City of Vancouver—provide protection to the Chinese community in Canada.
"There have never been any consequences for the Chinese government's behaviour in Canada," says McAdam. "The incredible thing is the Canadian government hasn't taken a hard stance on their activities, and they have to. They can't allow a foreign government to carry out this kind of intimidation."
McAdam adds that given the CCP's "strong links" with Asian organized crime, there's a possibility that the attack was carried out by gang members.
Ms. Zhang says that the consulate has a surveillance camera trained on the area at all times, which would have captured the attack on film. This could assist in catching the perpetrators. However, Constable Vandenberg of the Vancouver Police Department told Ms. Zhang that "it is difficult" to get the footage from consulate officials.
"If the consulate has nothing to hide then why don't they give the footage to the police?" asks Ms. Zhang.
In another ongoing investigation, police are probing claims that a Montreal newspaper, Les Presses Chinoises, is inciting hate against Falun Gong in Canada. Despite two Quebec court orders telling them to stop, the newspaper has published four special editions condemning and demonizing the meditation practice.
On a recent visit to Canada, Chen Yonglin, a former diplomat at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, Australia, warned that Chinese spies and front organizations are widespread here, including those targeting groups persecuted by the regime in China.
The consulate appeal site has also earned the disapproval of Vancouver's mayor, Sam Sullivan. In June 2006, Sullivan, announced that the signs on the fence and the hut the practitioners use for shelter from the elements breached a city bylaw and ordered them removed by August 16.
However, the Falun Gong say they were initially given verbal permission by the city to hold the 24/7 vigil, and are seeking a full trial instead of the summary-type process the city wants. A spokesperson from the mayor's office says he can't comment on today's assault since it is under police investigation.
In a press release, FDAC is calling on the Canadian government to demand that "Chinese consulate officials immediately stop harassing, distributing hatred, and attacking Falun Gong practitioners in Canada, or face expulsion."
Zhang, whose mother and sister have both been imprisoned and endured torture in China because they practise Falun Gong, says he will continue to maintain a presence at the consulate, despite the assault.
"They are still torturing and killing innocent practitioners in China, so I will keep coming until the persecution is over."