Falun Dafa proclamation delayed

Saskatoon, Canada - A routine request for a public proclamation from local followers of a Chinese meditation practice had Saskatoon's mayor squirming in his seat during Monday's city council meeting.

"I just find this one a political statement," Mayor Don Atchison said as the rest of council prepared to approve all nine of the proclamations on the agenda, including one declaring May as Falun Dafa Month in Saskatoon.

Atchison told council he was hesitant to issue the proclamation without more information from the city clerk's office about whether it might violate the city's policy on proclamations.

The policy, passed in 1978 and updated in 1995, states the city will not issue any proclamation if it promotes hatred, involves any illegal activity or contains any inflammatory, obscene or libellous statement.

City solicitor Theresa Dust told council the proclamation does not violate that policy. However, the proclamation was stalled while council waits for more information.

Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a system of meditation and exercise based on spiritual teachings employing the principles of truth, compassion and forbearance. It has no political affiliation or religious rituals and does not accept donations or interfere in its followers' personal lives. Its founder was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

After estimating that its practitioners outnumbered the membership of the Communist party, the Chinese government banned Falun Gong in 1999 and began arresting, jailing and even executing followers. In 2003, an Ottawa court found the Chinese consul in Toronto guilty of libelling a Falun Gong practitioner in a letter to the Toronto Star by calling him a member of a "sinister cult" seeking to "instigate hate."

The Chinese consulate for Western Canada chastised Saskatoon for declaring Falun Dafa Week in 2001, calling the movement a "heretic cult." City council went ahead with the proclamation after then-mayor Jim Maddin spoke to a senior consular official in Calgary and said the city would not change its position just because the Chinese government disagreed.

In 2003, the Falun Dafa Association of Canada won an award for its float in Saskatoon's Exhibition parade.

On Monday night, Atchison told council the last time he issued a proclamation for Falun Gong, "it certainly did cause some inflammatory comments from the government of China," adding he did not want to issue a proclamation that might invite "international controversy."

Coun. Tiffany Paulsen argued city council would be going down a "very slippery slope" if it started refusing proclamations based on subjective moral judgments.

"I think we should stick to our policy," Paulsen said.

Nevertheless, at Atchison's request council referred the matter back to the administration for more information.

The group's request is not likely to return to council until June, city clerk Janice Mann said Tuesday. Mann, who is responsible for preparing the information for council, said she will not have time for it this week and will be away at a conference next week, leaving her no chance to get to it before the next council meeting on May 22.

In an interview on Tuesday, Atchison said he was never contacted by the Chinese government about the city's last Falun Gong proclamation.

"Last time there was apparently some negative feedback from it, is how I would put it," he said. "I can't remember if it was last year or two years ago. I did get a phone call from the media about it, asking us why we did this, and I said, 'Well, we just proclaim anything.' . . . But in our policy it says that it's not supposed to incite things or whatever, and so all I'm asking (city staff) to do is just check to make sure that everything is OK."

Danny Zieglar, a Regina resident and Falun Gong practitioner who asked for the proclamation on behalf of the group's national organization, said he may repeat the request for a proclamation in June, although May has been declared Falun Dafa Month in other cities and provinces.

"I'm not too sure why he would do that," Zieglar said of Atchison's hesitation. "I find that very strange."

The group has asked for a similar proclamation in Regina, where such decisions are at the discretion of Mayor Pat Fiacco and the city clerk. A staff member in the Regina city clerk's office said Tuesday Fiacco and the clerk are considering the proclamation request and may have a decision by the end of the week.