An official from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver panicked when he saw reporters surrounding the doorway of the Mackenzie Room at the Fairmont Waterfront Centre Hotel on Sept. 25.
He ordered a security guard to hurry and take the two boxes of Tim Hortons donuts, with the images of Canadian political prisoners, away from the Chinese government’s cocktail party at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. He would not stop and give a reporter his name.
A small group of local government politicians, led by outspoken Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, had brought the symbolic gifts downstairs for diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, the two Canadians jailed in China last December in retaliation for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant.
West had earlier headlined a protest organized by Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters and the local Uighur Muslim community. West pointed to the jailing of a million Muslims in Xinjiang province for so-called “re-education” and the crackdown on Hong Kong protesters as attacks “on people who want nothing more than to live their life like the way we do in this country.”
“It’s shameful that those topics aren’t going to be discussed in that room,” West said, pointing at the hotel behind him.
Some 65% of delegates voted against allowing a foreign government to sponsor the convention and hold a cocktail party, like China has for eight years.
“I feel confident in telling you that this is the last time that this immoral, embarrassing event is going to take place,” West said to applause.
Notably absent were the mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey and Delta. At least 43 elected and appointed officials attended the event, including Mayor David Screech of View Royal, Mayor Ken Williams of Highlands, Mayor Fred Haynes of Saanich, Mayor Manfred Bauer of Keremeos, Mayor Walt Cobb of Williams Lake, former UBCM president Al Richmond, and Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston. (More names at bottom).
Consul General Tong Xiaoling and her Deputy Kong Weiwei both refused to answer questions from theBreaker.news. They handed out a one-paragraph statement later in the event that said the reason for it was to foster mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation between Canada and China. They gave away gift bags containing a lapel pin and T-shirt showing a flag-waving panda and beaver shaking hands to signify Canadian-Chinese co-operation.
Tong’s speech was a lecture on China facts and statistics. Afterward, a flashy government propaganda film that included scenes of youth hockey. Beijing is hosting the next Winter Olympics in 2022.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie conceded that China’s human rights record, “ from everything I’ve been told, leaves a lot to be desired. And I think that there are real challenges, so the question is how do you get past those challenges, do you get past those challenges by boycotting a reception? I don’t think so.”
Brodie said his attendance was not to “endorse anybody or anything.“
“There are tensions between Canada and China and if I can do just a little fraction to assist with the communications, then I’ll do it. I don’t think we should be putting up walls or putting up barriers between people. I think we should communicate.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps took issue with theBreaker.news photographing politicians, including herself, while Tong spoke. Helps waved her arms and even lunged at the camera. She approached theBreaker.news after the speech to explain her beef.
Helps cited Victoria’s sister city relationship with Suzhou, China and said she has a good relationship with the consulate.
As for human rights in China question, Helps said “that’s not my role as mayor to deal with those issues. That’s far beyond my pay grade, my job is to advocate on behalf of my citizens and work for sustainable jobs and sustainable community in Victoria, I can’t solve those problems.”
“I don’t think that one, lowly Canadian mayor has an impact on international relations, but I do believe in goodwill and the role of cities as diplomats in the world,” Helps said.
Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry said the economic ties between China and B.C. municipalities, especially those in the resource-rich north, are too important to jeopardize. New Westminster councillor Chuck Puchmayr said the Royal City’s sister city relationship with Lijiang, China includes exchanges.
“It is a relationship that we needed to continue even in the wake of what is happening nationally and internationally,” Puchmayr said. “We think that the community to community relationship is something that is important. I have no problem attending this event, if it was any other consul of any other country I would feel the same way.
“We have a lot of human rights issues in Canada now with the indigenous communities that are not being addressed, I feel like I’d like to champion that more strongly and look at how we can do better as a country.”
A reporter reminded Puchmayr that Canada has a tradition of making official apologies and reconciliation programs with oppressed groups and it has held public inquiries into human rights abuses. For one thing, the Chinese government has not owned up to the Tiananmen Square massacre from 30 years ago.
“I don’t think boycotting any kind of relationship with another country is a way of getting there,I think our senior levels of government need to push those issues and push for freedoms in those countries, but I’m not comfortable with this tact,” Puchmayr said.
Who else was there?
Mayors David Screech (View Royal); Rob Fraser (Taylor); Ken Williams (Highlands); and Councillors/Directors Ron Paull (Quesnel); Janice Morrison (Nelson); John Tidbury (Port Hardy); Ron Obirek (Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District); Pete Fry (Vancouver); Tek Manhas (North Cowichan); Claire Moglove (Campbell River; also director of Island Health); Ryan Mitchell (Port McNeill); Matt Sahlstrom (Langford); Travis Fehr (Merritt); Al Beddows (Sooke); Mary Sjostrom (Cariboo Regional District); Al Anderson (Tofino); Alison Lauzon (Chase); Lilia Hansen (Fort St. John); George Doubt (Powell River); Rick Fairbairn (Northern Okanagan Regional District); Maureen Pinkney (100 Mile House); Travis Hall (Heltsiuk Nation).
Others: Tom Shypitka (BC Liberal MLA, Kootenay East); Michael Goehring (CEO, Mining Association of B.C.); Richard Prokopanko (lobbyist/ResourceWorks director); Yvonne Koerner (Kitimat-Stikine Regional District CFO; North West Regional Hospital District executive director); Theresa Fresco (Sea-to-Sky Region, Fraser Basin Council); Joel Palmer (Ministry of Education capital management executive director); Christopher Graham (Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch investigator).
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