God, I love democracy! Most of the time it shuffles around, looking like nobody’s good version of Peter Parker, but then, when the jackboots come out, it suddenly turns into Spiderman and kicks the living snot out of the tyrants. In Vancouver, we’ve just had an up-close-and-personal view of how democracy really works, and it feels good. Here’s the slimmed-down version.
First of all, you need some background. For the last 10 of 12 years, there’s been a running battle between the government of China and a quasi-religious group called the Falun Gong. Although it was originally encouraged in China, the government there became very wary of the Falun Gong’s rapid growth and increasing power — and with good reason. The last time a religious group, The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, got out of control in China, the result was a fourteen year civil war and 20 million dead bodies. The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) may be the bloodiest domestic disturbance in history. Either way, the Chinese government banned the Falun Gong in 1999, on the grounds that it is an “evil cult” and disruptive to Chinese society. Since then, they’ve done a pretty good job of stamping it out and driving it underground. On the other hand, the Falun Gong believe they were just peaceably going about their business when the government went bananas and started dragging them off to face the People’s Justice (which, has never been timid about torture, conviction, execution and dismemberment. In fact, one of the major accusations the Falun Gong makes is that the Chinese government is murdering its members and harvesting their organs. There is even some serious speculation that China’s scientific exhibit, “Bodies: the Exhibition” is made up of Falun Gong followers who were not given an opportunity to sign the organ donor card. Obviously, there are no Falun Gong protests inside China anymore, but around the world, the group has targeted every official Chinese institution they can find. The Chinese government is decidedly miffed at this international black eye and spends a lot of diplomatic time — and muscle — trying to put a stop to it. There’s tons more information, but you get the idea.
One of the many Falun Gong protests around the world is a 24 hour silent vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver, Canada. This has been part of the Vancouver cityscape for a number of year; it started around 2001. However, just before the 2010 Winter Olympics, for some reason, the Vancouver City Council decided the Falun Gong protest actually violated city by-laws. Who knew? The result was the Falun Gong spent the Olympics far away from the Chinese Consulate — and the world’s media — in a protracted legal battle which ended when – surprise! – the courts upheld the Falun Gong’s right to protest and told the city to redraft the by-law. So, during the first part of April, 2011, hidden away somewhere between City Hall’s multi-million dollar makeover and the stacks of debts left over from the Olympic Village, Mayor Gregor Robertson and his (dare I say) henchpeople were busy — tearing a page out of Woodrow Wilson’s playbook and trying their damnedest to make the world safe from democracy. They produced a document that succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest expectations. It was a complicated mess, but, in essence, the new by-law limited protests in Vancouver to a select group of affluent dissidents who had conveniently planned ahead. More importantly, however, it legally kicked the stuffing out of the Falun Gong, which was the reason for the by-law in the first place. They, of course, were shocked and appalled, but everybody knows that you can’t actually fight City Hall so it looked like democracy was going down for the count — at least, in Vancouver.
This is where we get to the good part because, just when all seemed lost, Peter Parker strangely disappeared, and Spiderman showed up. Under tyranny, people accept the laws as they’re written and do as they’re told. In a democracy, however, people ask questions. They want information. They want clarification. They say things like, “Hey! Wait a minute!” and “You can’t do that!” And that’s what the people of Vancouver did. Spiderman (aka Democracy) started demanding answers, and the folks at City Hall started dodging around on the defensive. Councillors began tiptoeing through the halls, justifying their position and qualifying their support, whenever they actually did get caught by the media. Mayor Robertson even invoked the Geneva Convention, for Godsake, insinuating that his hands were tied by international law or something. And it was revealed that the City of Vancouver had “consulted” the Chinese Consulate on the wording of the by-law. OMG! Suddenly, everybody (including the janitor) was looking the other way, as if they’d never seen the new by-law before in their lives. It was kinda like Penny Bellam and the city staff had been working on a remote island for six months and had appeared, out of nowhere, with the new by-law in hand. Mayor Robertson demanded that the odious document be taken from his sight and rewritten — as though he was repulsed by its very presence. The fact is, even though nobody within bike-riding distance of City Hall will admit it, everybody in town knows that the mayor of Vancouver and the city council have “consulted” one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet for advice about the fundamental tenets of democracy: “free speech” and “peaceful protest.” There’s nothing else to say. I’m surprised the whole works of them aren’t wearing paper bags over their heads; too ashamed to show their faces to the citizens of Vancouver.
Luckily, democracy works. Mayor Robertson wants to be Premier of British Columbia some day. Thus, every time his administration does something sticky like this, he’s got to wipe it up and make it look good. In the end, it doesn’t matter who kowtowed to Chinese diplomatic pressure or who gets tossed under the bus. But believe me, his name isn’t going to be Gregor. What matters is democracy won. The “new” new by-law has a bunch of face-saving language and poor sport regulations, but it allows the Falun Gong — or anybody else, for that matter — the right to say and do as they please in a peaceful manner. For now, all is well, in Vancouver, it’s Democracy: 1, Tyranny: 0.
But the war isn’t over.