Ottawa deports Falun Gong member

Ottawa, Canada - As the federal government prepares to welcome Chinese President Hu Jintao, it has deported to China a member of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned by Beijing.

The deportation of the 54-year-old Chinese woman last week is the first time Canada has deported a Falun Gong adherent since China banned the group in 1999, Canadian Falun Gong representatives say.

Hu Xiaoping entered Canada two years ago on a visitor's visa to be with her sister, who was dying of cancer in Montreal. Ms. Hu had been a member of Falun Gong in China in the 1990s. She was rounded up after the 1999 crackdown, sent for "re-education" in a labour camp and forced to renounce her beliefs, according to her Montreal lawyer, Michael Bergman.

Ms. Hu remained in Canada after her sister's death, but did not immediately apply for refugee status because she believed she might be punished in Canada for being a member, Mr. Bergman said.

The immigration board turned down her refugee claim -- in part because it was not made at the earliest opportunity. The deportation order was upheld by the Federal Court of Canada one week ago. On Friday, Ms. Hu was put on a plane for Beijing while Canadian supporters were trying to organize a petition campaign to Immigration Minister Joe Volpe.

The fact the deportation took place just a month before Mr. Hu's visit is alarming and sends a political message that Canada "will put trade and economic interests ahead of human rights," said Lucy Zhou, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in Ottawa.

Federal officials denied there is any connection between the case and Mr. Hu's state visit next month.

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said Ms. Hu is now at risk of being arrested, held incommunicado or even tortured by Chinese authorities because of her beliefs.

He said Ottawa failed in its duty to protect Ms. Hu from the well-documented abuses suffered by Falun Gong members in China.

Independent Alberta MP David Kilgour, a former Liberal minister, said the case "is a glaring example of the Canadian government's insensitivity to the reality of the human-rights abuses against the Falun Gong in China."

The Canadian Border Services Agency deported 91 people to China in the past fiscal year who had lost their bids for refugee status, spokeswoman Amélie Morin said.

Ms. Hu's deportation came just eight weeks after a Chinese police defector in Australia said the Chinese Public Security Bureau maintained a vast network of spies in Canada and other Western countries to keep track of Falun Gong practitioners.

Falun Gong was banned as a "dangerous cult" in China after thousands of members staged a surprise peaceful demonstration outside the residential compound of Chinese Communist Party leaders in Beijing in 1999.

Tens of thousands of members remain in detention and hundreds may have died in custody from torture, abuse or neglect, according to a U.S. State Department human-rights report.