Practitioners object to what lawsuit calls ‘hate literature’ in local Chinese paper
They are often seen sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, in silent protest of human-rights abuses against brothers and sisters halfway around the world.
But hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners are now speaking up in Quebec Superior Court against what they claim are abuses in Montreal by a local Chinese-language newspaper.
About 250 plaintiffs from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa are suing Les Presses Chinoises for defamation and producing hate literature against them.
They are asking for $100,000 each in damages, and an injunction against the newspaper, said their lawyer, Michael Bergman.
“The newspaper can publish criticism and opinions of Falun Gong, but what was published was classic hate literature,” Bergman said, adding this is the first time a persecuted group is suing in a civil court for being the subject of hate literature.
“This case is about whether Canadians are free from hate and about the boundaries of free speech.”
Several articles published between November 2001 and February 2002 were submitted in court. They described Falun Gong practitioners as, among other things, brainwashed “bloodsuckers” who destroy families and engage in sex with animals.
Bergman said these invectives are strangely similar to those repeated by the Chinese government, which outlawed the Falun Gong movement in 1999 and has imprisoned hundreds of followers.
“I’m not saying (the publisher) Crescent Chau or the newspaper is somehow linked to Chinese authorities, but they have repeated Chinese propaganda and these articles were then reported on in China,” Bergman said.
The damage to the plaintiffs results in part from being forced to relive their experience in China, he said.
ShenLi Lin, who was released from a “re-education” camp in February, thanks to pressure from the Canadian government and his Canadian wife, testified that even the photographs used in the newspaper were exactly the same as those used to brainwash him against the Falun Gong in China.
“After reading the articles, I had a feeling I was back in a labour camp,” said Lin, 49.
“All kinds of painful memories came back to me. The torture and the torment I was subjected to for two years. All came back to me.”
Julius Grey, lawyer for Les Presses Chinoises, said only the movement’s spiritual leader, Li Hongzhi, might have grounds for defamation or to seek damages – and he’s not suing.
“If you look at the articles, they don’t mention individuals, so whether what was written was true or not, it doesn’t entitle a group to sue,” Grey said.
“Otherwise, any remark about any group would be extremely dangerous.”
Grey said there are other arenas for dealing with hate literature in Canada – the Press Council, or the Attorney-General’s Department.
“But we’re not looking at whether Falun Gong is right or wrong, but were these people slandered and did they suffer damages?”
The trial continues today with testimony from more Falun Gong practitioners, all released from detention in China due to Canadian pressure, Bergman said.