Ottawa's Tulip Festival apologizes for barring Falun Gong band

Ottawa, Canada - Organizers of the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa have apologized to a marching band for turning it away from the opening ceremonies after its members wore uniforms displaying support for Falun Gong.

Tulip Festival organizers barred the Tian Guo marching band from playing at Major's Hill Park earlier this month after they showed up with a banner, scarves and bright blue uniforms bearing the words "Falun Dafa," also known as Falun Gong.

Doug Little, a spokesman for the festival, said at the time that the festival is intended to celebrate international friendship, and was not a place to protest. But the band's members, all practitioners of Falun Gong, called the move discriminatory.

Over the weekend, festival organizers David Luxton and Teri Kirk met personally with band members to apologize for the move, as well as to "exchange views and rebuild relations" with the band, the festival said in a release.

“Comments in the media attributed to festival staff dealing with the incident exacerbated the feelings of grievance by band members, which the festival regrets,” Luxton said.

Little also apologized, saying his remarks "have not reflected well on band members, on Falun Gong or the festival."

The release said the band has accepted the apology and an invitation to perform May 18 at 1 p.m. ET at the "Music in the Tulips" event at Dow’s Lake.

Practitioners of Falun Gong, which combines meditation and exercises with Buddhist and Taoist principles, regularly protest alleged human rights abuses against members by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government calls Falun Gong a cult. China banned Falun Gong in 1999 after raiding the homes of Falun Gong leaders and arresting dozens of them.