VANCOUVER—Drivers along Granville St. in Vancouver have become accustomed to a unique sight — a blue shelter and a row of large display boards outside the Chinese consulate where Falun Gong practitioners have been holding a round-the-clock peaceful appeal.
In an effort to raise awareness and urge the Chinese regime to bring an end to its persecution of their counterparts in China, the Falun Gong have maintained a 24/7 vigil at the site since August 2001.
On one of the signs affixed to the consulate fence are two constantly increasing numbers: the amount of Falun Gong practitioners who have been tortured to death since the persecution was launched in July 1999 and the number of days the protest has been in existence.
“Through this window, this site, more and more Canadian people were able to know about the genocide happening in China,” said Christine Cao, the shift coordinator for the site.
“It is also [a site] that Chinese tourists view when they come to Vancouver, which is very important since it is a window that cannot be seen and a voice that cannot be heard inside China.”
However, the long-running appeal may now be in jeopardy. Due to a bylaw enforced by the City of Vancouver forbidding structures on private property without a permit, practitioners were ordered to remove the shelter and signs in August 2006.
The Falun Gong disputed this, saying they were initially given verbal permission by the city to hold the 24/7 vigil, and a hearing is scheduled at the B.C. Supreme Court for five days beginning Nov. 3.
Clive Ansley, a lawyer in the Falun Gong's legal team, said one of the City’s arguments that the site has simply been there long enough and the time has come to remove it doesn’t hold water.
“I think the part that’s significant about this protest is that genocide is still occurring, organ harvesting is still occurring, torture is still occurring in China, so by definition the protests haven’t been there long enough. Until torture stops and until forced organ harvesting stops and until genocide stops, the protest must continue, it must be there.”
Ansley said there’s no doubt that pressure from Chinese consular officials has played a big part in the City’s decision to try to remove the protest.
“There’s no question at all that the consul general in Vancouver and the embassy in Ottawa have pulled out absolutely all the stops — they’ve taken every possible action to put pressure on Canadian politicians to end this vigil,” he said.
“And we know that when the former consul general in Vancouver left his post he was quoted by Sing Tao Daily as having said that his one big regret was that he had exerted so much pressure on officials in Vancouver and had been unsuccessful in removing the Falun Gong protest.”
When approached for an interview for this story, the City said it would not comment on account of the pending court case.
On a visit to Vancouver in 2007, Chen Yonglin, a former diplomat at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, warned that Chinese spies and front organizations are widespread in Canada, including those targeting groups such as Falun Gong that are persecuted by the regime in China.
Chen defected and sought political asylum from Australia in May 2005, stating that he no longer wanted to monitor Falun Gong and other dissident groups. After his defection Chen himself was followed, videotaped and had his life threatened, according to news reports.
A spiritual discipline that follows the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance, Falun Gong was outlawed by the Chinese regime because of its rapid growth and widespread popularity in China.
Many relatives and friends of Canadian Falun Gong practitioners are currently in detention and undergoing torture in Chinese labour camps.
“In this persecution, every Falun Gong practitioner is a victim, it just differs on the depth and form,” said Virginia Gao, who has lived in Vancouver for ten years.
“My two sisters in China, Suming Gao and Qianming Gao, were kidnapped by Chinese police in the city of Guanzhou on April 15 for their belief in Falun Gong. They were among the many people who were captured in a crackdown before the Beijing Olympics.”
Without any legal procedure, Gao’s sisters were sentenced to one and half years in a labour camp somewhere in Guangzhou. Since the arrest, their 83-year-old father, who suffers from high blood pressure and other health problems, has been left alone and unattended in the home.
“This kind of situation can only occur in a totalitarian and dictatorial state,” said Gao.
Jesse Nuytten is one of dozens of practitioners who brave all weathers to take regular shifts at the consulate site. He says that because Canada and China are strong trading partners and with Vancouver and Guanzhou being sister cities, it is up to Canadians to “speak up.”
“A lot of Canadian people care about the things going around the world. Just because something is happening really far away does not mean that it does not affect us here in Canada. We are not in China, but there are a lot of Chinese people here in Vancouver.”
Many Falun Gong practitioners are disappointed by the City’s attempt to remove the shelter and signs, as they have constantly sacrificed their leisure time for the protest.
“I don’t think it’s a right action, because it’s not just like a normal construction or a normal site that has conflicted with the bylaw,” said Cao. “It is not a wall, not a blue shelter, not a structure, but a voice — a voice that calls for human rights.”
Although the City has said that practitioners may continue to protest using hand-held signs but without the shelter, Ansley says that while this sounds noble, it’s just “the usual politicians’ dodge.”
“They know perfectly well that many of these protestors are elderly, or that they have jobs. They can’t all be out there to maintain the protest with picket signs held up…. It’s beyond the strength, capacity and the numbers of the protestors involved to keep it up.”