Less than a month after returning from a business mission to China, Mayor Larry O'Brien is refusing to proclaim Falun Dafa Day, for fear it might "create any kind of international incident."
The City of Ottawa has made the proclamation in the previous two years, with O'Brien personally signing it in 2008.
Indeed, the spiritual group -- also called Falun Gong -- received notification in April from the city's protocol office that today would be proclaimed "Falun Dafa Day" in the city. Earlier this week, though, the group was told the mayor would not sign the proclamation.
When asked why, O'Brien said Wednesday it was "in the interest of maintaining and developing a continuing stronger economic relation with a country that's going to be important to our future."
According to Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, when he asked the mayor why he would not sign the proclamation, the mayor told Cullen: "I made a commitment." O'Brien did not say to whom, Cullen said.
Asked by the Citizen if he gave his word to any Chinese official he would not proclaim Falun Dafa Day, the mayor did not answer.
"Quite frankly," he said, "based on what I saw, the progress and the warmth and the happiness that I saw in China, it would be very difficult for me to try and create any kind of international incident."
Outside China, Falun Gong is widely accepted as a non-threatening spiritual practice, which the group says urges "truthfulness, compassion and forbearance," as well as mental and physical well-being. Founded in 1992, the Chinese Communist party initially supported it, but, when the movement became so popular that it had tens of millions more followers, the government outlawed Falun Gong, branding it an "evil" cult in 1999.
The mayor said Wednesday his 11-day visit last month to China had a "profound impact" on "understanding the complexity of the country, seeing the enormous progress they have made."
Travelling with the Ottawa Centre for Research Innovation and a number of local clean-technology companies, O'Brien met with high-ranking officials from four cities, including the mayor of Beijing and a senior vice-president with telecommunications giant Huawei.
During the trip, Ottawa company Plasco Energy signed a deal to set up a demonstration facility in Beijing, while Huawei announced it would expand its research and development centre in Ottawa to 200 from 80.
O'Brien said he was not concerned that he would be seen to be tolerating a repressive regime in exchange for stronger business ties.
"I think it's important that we save the proclamations for days that are not going to be contentious internationally," the mayor said. "We are a city, after all, and a city has a number of priorities including economic prosperity, social stability and I'm very comfortable in the decision I've made."
(The Ottawa Citizen, May 13, 2010)