Ottawa man says Dragon-boat festival CEO ordered him to remove Falun Gong shirt, citing Chinese sponsorship

Tom BlackwellTom Blackwell

Gerry Smith’s allegations are the latest indication of Beijing’s low-profile campaign to influence Canadian society amid a tense diplomatic stand-off

A Falun Gong practitioner says the CEO of Ottawa’s dragon-boat festival ordered him to take off a T-shirt advertising the Chinese spiritual group, citing in part China’s sponsorship of the popular event.

John Brooman also threatened to have other Falun Gong practitioners removed from the public park in which the festival took place last month if they didn’t leave voluntarily, says Gerry Smith, a retired Nortel Networks employee.

His allegations are the latest indication of Beijing’s low-profile campaign to influence Canadian society, even as the two countries remain locked in a tense diplomatic stand-off.

China’s interventions here have often concerned the Falun Gong, which it accuses of being a cult, and has persecuted for years according to various human-rights watchdogs. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and other Canadian authorities have said it is a spiritual organization deserving of rights protection.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa is listed as a “gold sponsor” of the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, which also receives funding from companies and federal, provincial and city governments.

“If it had been the Chinese embassy, I would not have been surprised,” Smith, 72, told Brooman in a letter abut the incident. “But this is Canada … and Canadians should not be taking directions from the Chinese embassy. You are being used to do their dirty work of covering up horrific crimes.”

Neither the festival CEO nor the embassy could be reached for comment Tuesday.

But in responding to a letter of complaint from the Falun Gong, Brooman said he had had a “good exchange” with Smith and simply stressed that he wanted to avoid politicizing the festival.

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