Ottawa

Falun Gong band sent marching by Ottawa's Tulip Festival

A marching band invited to participate in Ottawa's Tulip Festival is demanding an apology after it was accused of playing politics and turned away from the opening ceremonies.

A marching band invited to participate in Ottawa's Tulip Festival is demanding an apology after it was accused of playing politics and turned away from the opening ceremonies.

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

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 has outlawed Falun Gong.

According to the Tian Guo marching band website, most members of the band are Chinese and all are practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline aimed at refining the body and mind through special exercises and meditation.

Tulip Festival spokesman Doug Little said organizers of the annual event, which is intended to celebrate international friendship, were taken aback by the fact that band wore the words "Falun Dafa" instead of "Tian Guo."

"That's not the band that they said they were," he said, adding that it was obvious the group intended to make a political statement against the Chinese embassy, which is part of the festival's international pavilion.

Celebration, not protest: Tulip Festival

"We are a celebration," Little said. "We are not a place to come and protest."

The marching band has also been barred from other events at the Canadian Tulip Festival, which runs from May 2 to 19, 2008, displaying beds of blooming tulips at several major parks and featuring musical performers, artwork, and lectures.

Falun Dafa spokeswoman Grace Wollensak said the Tian Guo band just wanted to play music.

"Everybody [has] the right to perform or to express themselves," she said. "Especially at this occasion, we were not here to protest anybody but just participate."

She called the Tulip Festival's move discriminatory.

"And this discrimination should not be accepted here in Canada," she said, adding that the group wants an apology.

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