April 10, 2008TORONTO —
As hundreds of pro-Tibetan protesters gathered outside the Ontario legislature Thursday, politicians inside voted in favour of a motion calling on China to engage in dialogue with Tibet in a gesture made by a government that flatly refuses to scuttle plans for a trade mission to Beijing.
The Liberals have been taking heat all week over Economic Development and Trade Minister Sandra Pupatello's visit to China this weekend, with human rights activists and the opposition parties condemning the timing of the trip.
Deputy Premier George Smitherman introduced the motion that described Ontario as "a long-standing friend of China" and expressed the legislature's "concern with the current situation in Tibet and encourage the parties to engage in meaningful dialogue."
Smitherman called it a "very, very strong opportunity for Ontarians to be united" in their stand against human rights abuses in Tibet.But Conservative critic Randy Hillier mocked the Liberal motion, saying it was the wrong time to ask China's communist government to talk with Tibetans while tanks and riot police were being used to crack down on riots in Tibet.
"This is a weak, fluffy motion of no importance whatsoever," Hillier told the legislature.
"You cannot have constructive dialogue when one side is so overwhelmingly powerful and the other side so overwhelmingly weak; when one side is willing to use force, when one side is willing to use violence and has no regard and no respect for freedoms, for justice, for any of our democratic values."
The Conservatives and New Democrats both complained that the Liberals failed to notify them of the China motion when the three party house leaders met earlier Thursday. They said they only learned of the proposal when Smitherman raised it in the legislature, following the protests on the front lawn.NDP critic Cheri DiNovo told the legislature that Pupatello's office tried to hide the planned mission to China, and said the New Democrats had nothing against increasing trade with a country that has 1.3 billion people."We do have something against the timing of this trip, and we certainly have something against the fact that this minister of trade will not promise to speak about human rights violations in Tibet," said DiNovo."Why did they try to hide this trip? Because it's a shameful trip."
Kalsang Tsomo, a Tibetan who now lives in Toronto, said Thursday she wished Pupatello had cancelled her visit to China but hopes the minister will raise the human rights abuses with Communist authorities."If she really could not postpone her trip, at least she could take the message on our behalf about the human rights that are being violated in Tibet, and about allowing the international media in so the world can see what is going on in Tibet," said Tsomo.
"We also request her to take the message (to China) to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama."As a crowd of about 400 people chanted "Long live the Dalai Lama" and "China out of Tibet" outside the legislature, a tearful Naaang Diki, 57, wiped away tears and kneeled as another protester shaved her head.Describing herself as a "political refugee," Diki said she came to Canada from Tibet a mere 14 months ago to live in freedom."A lot of people have died and are suffering, so cutting my hair is no big deal," she said through a translator."In Tibet, we don't have freedom and we can't speak out. That's why I came to Canada, because it's a better place. We're in Canada because we're prisoners back home."Chinese communists troops occupied Tibet in 1951, and Beijing continues to rule the region with a heavy hand.China clamped down hard on Tibet a month ago after anti-government protests erupted. Dozens of people were killed and scores arrested.
China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say they were essentially an independent state for most of that time.
Earlier in the morning, Tibetan-Canadian Jangchp Dorjee was one of several hundred who gathered at the Chinese consulate in Toronto to shout slogans and sing protest songs.
"We're getting support from all over the world," he said, referring to the recent decision of world leaders like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said he would not attend the opening ceremonies of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Games this August.
"And we expect the same support from all levels of government in Canada."