More than 250 practitioners of Falun Gong and their supporters jammed into a Montreal courtroom yesterday to hear the start of closing arguments in what one lawyer described as “a historic case.”
“This is a pivotal court case that could set a standard,” lawyer Michael Bergman said after a full day of summations before Quebec Superior Court Justice Jeannine Rousseau.
Bergman is representing 256 plaintiffs suing a local Chinese-language newspaper for $100,000 each, claiming in the civil case that they were defamed by hate literature against the traditional spiritual discipline.
He told Rousseau that opinion pieces and advertisements published in Les Presses Chinoises between November 2001 and February 2002 were aimed at denouncing Falun Gong in “graphic and horrific terms.”
While the articles depicted the practice as “an evil, demonic cult insidious to the Chinese nation,” Bergman countered by presenting “the alternate reality and core values of Falun Gong: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.”
Twelve of the plaintiffs testified in November they were detained in Chinese labour camps and tortured for participating in the movement, outlawed by the Chinese government in 1999.
The vast majority of the plaintiffs are Chinese with Canadian citizenship or close Canadian ties. Western-born practitioners are also taking part in the suit.
Falun Gong followers handed out leaflets outside the Place d’Armes métro station near the courthouse yesterday morning encouraging people to hear the final summations in the civil suit launched two years ago.
Bergman’s arguments are expected to end today. They are to be followed tomorrow by those of Julius Grey, lawyer for Les Presses Chinoises.