Twenty-seven years ago, a Chinese meditation discipline with an ancient lineage was made public and spread to every corner of China, attracting between 70 million and 100 million adherents within just a few years.
This week in Ottawa and other cities in Canada and around the world, those who have benefited from the practice, known both as Falun Dafa and Falun Gong, held celebrations and rallies to mark the anniversary of its introduction to the public in 1992.
“When I look out and always see the words truth, compassion, and tolerance, I thank each and every one of you [Falun Dafa adherents] for what you are bringing to Canada, by promoting the very values that make a country strong,” said Liberal MP and former cabinet minister Judy Sgro at a rally in Ottawa on May 8, referring to the tenets of Falun Dafa.
“Because those are very much the very three words that I believe all of us as parliamentarians believe in, promote, and want to see all Canadians participating in and focusing on.”
With Falun Dafa adherents in over 100 countries around the world celebrating the occasion, Sgro said the introduction of the practice marks a historic milestone.
“Please know that there are many of us within the Liberal Party of Canada, there are many Canadians, who support your endeavours to promote the very values that I believe make Canada … so special,” added Sgro, who is co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong, an all-party group of supporters that includes both MPs and senators.
The rally, which took place on Parliament Hill, was attended by a host of other elected officials and human rights activists as well as hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners and supporters.
Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Peter Kent said that besides celebrating Falun Dafa Day, which falls on May 13, the timing of the rally marked a number of other “meaningful, if somewhat sad” anniversaries.
He recalled that 30 years ago, thousands of young pro-democracy students started gathering on Tiananmen Square to demand greater freedoms, only to be met with bullets a month later on June 4, 1989, resulting in thousands of casualties. Last month also marked the 20th anniversary of a peaceful appeal in Beijing where some 10,000 Falun Dafa adherents gathered silently to demand the right to practise their belief free of harassment by authorities.
“We know that mere months after April 25, , the regime cracked down and began two decades of persecution, extra-judicial detentions and arrests, phony trials, forced confessions, torture, murder, and organ removal,” Kent said.
On July 20, 1999, then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, fearing that Falun Dafa’s widespread popularity would rival people’s devotion to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), launched a widespread persecution campaign against the practice. A few years later, Canadian investigators confirmed that the Chinese regime’s abuse against Falun Dafa adherents includes state-sanctioned organ removal from living prisoners of conscience—who die in the process—to sell in a multi-billion-dollar industry.
“It’s important that we stand here today to remind not only the government of China—as I’m sure agents of the [Chinese] Embassy are watching us from various points around this square as they do every year—to demand those basic freedoms of association, of religion, of speech, and the right to enjoy these freedoms,” Kent said.
Conservative MP Scott Reid, who in the early 2000s helped to secure the release of a number of Falun Dafa adherents with Canadian connections who were imprisoned in China, said practitioners play an important part in the well-being of China.
According to Reid, the CCP sees China’s role in the world as “primarily a power mission,” one that is bent on exploiting other nations.
“But that ought not to be China’s role. China’s role, as the world’s longest-surviving civilization and most populous country, is to teach so many lessons to so many people across the world,” he said. “And nobody represents the best qualities of this magnificent and ancient culture, of this wonderfully civilizing culture, than do the practitioners of Falun Gong.”
Reid said the role that Falun Dafa adherents play in China “cannot be overstated,” as they are turning China “into what it ought to be for the benefit of all humanity.”
“I can only say I stand in awe of the tremendous courage in the service of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance that is being demonstrated by so many millions of Falun Gong practitioners,” he said.
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who greeted the crowd in Chinese, thanked the Falun Dafa practitioners gathered on the Hill for their adherence to “the ideas of compassion, truth, and forbearance” and their healthy ways of maintaining mental and physical well-being.
“These are Canadian values, they are ones based on human rights, they are ones based in our Constitution about looking after each other, and this is extremely important,” Ouellette said.
Organ Trafficking Legislation
Longtime Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj said he is among several legislators who have introduced bills in Parliament over the years to combat international organ trafficking. This time, he said, he hopes the 42nd Parliament makes it its legacy to pass Bill S-240, which was initiated by Sen. Salma Ataullahjan in the Senate and by Conservative MP Garnett Genuis in the House of Commons.
“Falun Gong practitioners guide themselves by the values of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, but there’s also another value that [they] clearly demonstrate, and that’s perseverance,” he said, referring to the adherents’ years of resisting Beijing’s persecution campaign.
“I hope that this will be a legacy of the 42nd Parliament in Canada, and Canada will be at the forefront internationally to put an end to this horrific, cannibalistic industry, whether for personal profit or for state profit as occurs in China.”
David Bhatti, an aid for Genuis—who was unable to attend the event due to a family emergency—said it is their hope that Bill S-240 will be approved by the Senate within this Parliament so it can be passed into legislation.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said he also supports the bill—which enjoys the support of all parties—and will continue to stand up for human rights.
“I work very closely with local community members from Falun Dafa to raise human rights concerns and I will continue to do so,” he said.
Conservative MP David Anderson said it has been his “privilege” to stand beside Falun Dafa adherents to fight for basic freedoms in China.
“In honour of Falun Dafa Month, we stand with the Falun Gong practitioners and oppose the Chinese government’s increasing persecution of religious minorities,” Anderson said.
Fellow Conservative MP James Bezan said that as Falun Dafa adherents gather to mark the occasion, it’s important to remember those who are being persecuted back in China.
“You have found a home here in Canada,” he said to the adherents in attendance. “We embrace you. But at the same time, we have to hold those to account back in China who are persecuting the practitioners because of their beliefs.”
Bezan, who was one of the champions of Canada getting a Magnitsky Law, said that the law can be used to ensure those responsible for the persecution in China can never enter Canada and can’t have any assets or business transactions in Canada.
“Working together, we will stand up for the truth,” he said.
‘Resilience and Determination’
Former MP and secretary of state for Asia Pacific David Kilgour, who was among the earliest investigators of forced organ harvesting of Falun Dafa prisoners of conscience in China, said he thinks if more people had stepped forward to speak out against the atrocities against Falun Dafa adherents in earlier years, the same crimes wouldn’t be perpetrated against other minorities in China now on a large scale.
“Maybe what’s happening to the Uighur community wouldn’t be happening to them, and it would have stopped happening a long time ago,” he said.
Kilgour, who comes to the Falun Dafa Day event on Parliament Hill every year, said he thought this year’s turnout was the biggest.
“I think we’re going to win this battle, and I think we’re going to win it quite quickly,” he said.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said he found it incredible that no matter how cruel and relentless the abuse against Falun Dafa adherents is, they do not waver in their conviction and beliefs.
“I very much wanted to pay tribute to the incredible strength and resilience and determination that I have always been so impressed by in all of the Falun Dafa practitioners and their families,” he said. “And I’m here as well because I certainly once again want you to know that Amnesty International joins you in demanding, in insisting, that the crackdown end, and the crackdown must end now.”
Neve noted that among the incarcerated and persecuted adherents are some with Canadian links, such as Vancouver resident Sun Qian and those who are family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and called for their release.
Albert Lin, a former Taiwanese legislator and a former professor at Ryerson University, said the Chinese regime is extremely “inhumane,” and everyone has to work to ensure human rights are upheld in China.
“We are all on the same boat against this particular regime,” Lin said. “We have to work together.”
Human rights activist Aileen Calverley said it’s very important for Canada to pass Bill S-240 on organ trafficking so it can take a leading role on this issue.
“As a country who sees human rights as the most important issue in our nation, we must lead,” Calverley said.