[Ottawa – Sunday, March 23, 2008] As people in Ottawa prepared for the long-weekend ahead on a cloudy and chilly Thursday morning, a riveting sight of more than seven hundred people holding the multi-coloured snowlion flags of Tibet enlivened the city and roused the Parliament Hill with chants for freedom and justice like never before.
Tibetans from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Peterborough, Belleville, Lindsay and other towns convened on the steps in front of the Parliament building along with many Tibetan freedom supporters from Ontario and Quebec. There were nearly six hundred Tibetans from Toronto, almost everyone one of who had come by bus in the wee early hours of Thursday. The trip from Toronto to Ottawa takes more than five hours, but none of the Tibetans showed any sign of tiredness or sleep deprivation. Instead, the significance of the place, and the importance of the time, propelled the voices of the demonstrators to a riotous level previously unheard of. And they sustained it all day long, from nine in the morning till four in the afternoon.
The historic rally in Ottawa, which came ten days after the March 10 Uprisings, was unprecedented in both scope and exposure. Wangdu Duntak, the President of the Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) chapters in Ottawa, was amazed at the size of the crowd that had gathered on Parliament Hill. “This is …,” he remarked. “Wow. I’ve never seen so many Tibetan flags in one place before.” Mr. Duntak, a Tibetan-Canadian born and raised in Belleville, Ontario, and presently studying at the University of Ottawa, was one of the main organizers for the rally in Ottawa.
The ceremony began as the gong for 9 o’ clock rang from the clock tower and resonated across the hallowed grounds of the Parliament Hill. The Tibetans sang their national anthem, followed by the Canadian one. A minute’s silence was observed for the more than one hundred Tibetans who were killed as the level of violence and uprisings grew everywhere in and around Tibet. Bhutila Karpoche, board member of SFT Canada and one of the executive members of the Tibetan Joint Action Committee (JAC) — the committee from Toronto who had organized the rally in Ottawa — gave an impassioned speech lambasting the Chinese regime for their violent and heavy handed tactics in suppressing the dissent in Tibet, and called the government of Canada and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to demand China to stop their brutal reprisals and to remove Tibet off of the planned Olympic torch relay route.
MPs Paul Dewar (NDP) and Pierre Poilievre (PC) personally addressed the rally, and the latter also read a statement on behalf of Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada. “As His Holiness the Dalai Lama told me when I met him, and as he has been saying recently, his message is one of non-violence and reconciliation and I join him in that call,” Mr. Harper said in the statement.
The Tibetans acknowledged the statement from the Prime Minister, but still demanded that the Canadian government can do more. “We have seen from the events that have unfolded over the last week that the Tibetans feel very strongly against the totalitarian authority and the mass colonization of Tibet by the Chinese,” said Sonam Dorjee, Vice President of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress and also one of the executive members of the JAC. “We urge the leaders of Canada to do more. We have a lot of leverage against them. They rely on our technical prowess to feed their economy. Let’s not forget that it was our own Bombardier company that played a key role in the construction of the railway lines which have now exponentially increased the number of ethnic Han Chinese moving and settling into Tibet.”
From Parliament Hill, the demonstrators filed into two rows each as they prepared for their rally to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa. They first stopped for an impromptu meeting with UN officials at their office in downtown Ottawa. JAC members Bhutila Karpoche and Sonam Dorjee went inside to hand over their memorandum as the rally gathered outside the UN office building and chanted slogans of “Wake Up, Wake Up: UNO!”, among others.
From there, they headed over to the Chinese embassy, where a heavy police presence awaited them. All points of access to the embassy was shut down, with at least one police officer manning each corner of the area. Steel barricades were placed on the traffic island that separated the two one-way streets in front of the embassy. The protesters gathered on the street away from the embassy and continued their protests for nearly three hours.
Cameras could be seen from some of the windows of the embassy building, apparently recording the faces of the protesters. One of the speakers at the protest held the microphone and screamed, “I know you can see us here. I just hope you can hear how loud we are!” The protesters jeered loudly and waved their flags energetically.
The media coverage of the event in Ottawa was also unprecedented. Scores of cameras followed the rally from the Parliament building to the Chinese embassy. Live coverage of the protest was broadcast all across Canada, as all members of the JAC repeated their demands and messages as best as they could. “Stop the violent suppression and arbitrary detentions in Tibet. Send a UN fact-finding mission to Tibet. Remove Tibet from the Olympic torch relay route. Open Tibet to the international media right away.” These were the core demands that Bhutila Karpoche, one of the media spokespersons, said to the press at the rally.
As the rally drew to a close, the protesters quietly began to collect the various placards and flags into a cargo van. Some of them looked tired, after standing, walking and protesting for nearly seven hours straight. Some of the eyes were teary, and more than a few had sore throats from having strained their vocal chords for so long. But all of them were still passionate and were more than ready for another rally in Toronto, to be held in Parkdale on Sunday, March 23, 2008. The grim images of dead Tibetans in Tibet still burned in the minds of the protesters, and they were willing to fight for as long as it takes.
The rally in Ottawa was a relatively peaceful affair, thanks in large part to the cooperation and support of the local police department. They accommodated the stop in front of the UN office in spite of a late notice, and ensured that everyone in the rally was taken care of. They also arranged a bus to take some of the more elderly protesters from the Chinese embassy to the gathering spot in downtown Ottawa. A stark contrast from the violence that the Chinese cops unleashed on the monks who were conducting a similarly peaceful demonstration in Lhasa, Tibet ten days ago.
Next stop: Toronto – Sunday, March 23, 2008. Gathering at 9:30 AM in front of the Parkdale C.I on Jameson Avenue.