Around a thousand Tibetans and Tibetan supporters braved the winter chill of Ontario, Canada and descended on the streets of downtown Toronto to voice their opposition and remember the fallen ones on the forty-ninth anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day. Barely a day removed from the record-setting snowstorm that blanketed much of Ontario under 50 cm or more snow for the weekend, the sky was thankfully clear of any ominous clouds, and the sun warmed the afternoon considerably over the course of the rally.
Young and old, children and parents, high school students of all grades enjoying their first day of March break, chanted emotional slogans and walked a considerably long circuit around the downtown core; stopping first at the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) office building of Toronto and then gathering at the Chinese Consulate building. Some of the marchers were visibly tired after the long walk and constant chanting, but their voices never faltered and their spirits never wavered throughout the course of the day.
Tsering Lama, the National Coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet Canada, and TWA Vice President Kesang Chodon approached the office of Chris Rudge, Chief Executive Officer of COC, to hand in a letter of reprimand on behalf of the Joint Action Committee of Toronto, a group formed of SFT Canada, Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, Regional Tibetan Women’s Association, Dokham Chushi Gangdruk and Canada Tibet Committee. The committee was formed in preparation for the historic Beijing Olympic games which will be held in the August of this year.
The letter states the deleterious human rights records of China which is in direct contradiction with the values and ethics that the Olympics committee supposedly holds up in its ethos. It voiced the concern of the further disintegration of basic human rights in Tibet and the importance of reminding China and the International Olympic Committee to uphold the values that are universally declared as unconditional rights for everyone around the world. Although Mr. Rudge wasn’t personally available to receive the letter, his assistant received it on his behalf. While the letter was being delivered, the marchers gathered in front of the building outside and chanted slogans and jeers to all of those affiliated with the Canadian Olympic Committee.
After the meeting at the COC building, the marchers headed down to the Chinese Consulate building. As the mass of people swelled in front of the street that was cordoned off for the rally, various demonstrators waved the colourful Tibetan flags and placards in direct view of the many consulate employees and officials who were working inside. The importance of marching on a week day was not lost on the protesters, as they picked up their chants and furiously called out the Chinese government to “Free Tibet!”, “Release the Panchen Lama”, “Release Rongye Adak”, among many others.
This year’s March 10 protest was markedly different from the rallies of past. The number of participants were much higher than before, and it was even more impressive considering that it was on the start of a weekday. The passion and the sense of urgency by which the protesters carried the day signified the rise of momentum in the lead-up to the historic summer games in Beijing. Local representatives from both the Provincial and the Federal governments pledged their support for Tibet’s sovereign recognition and lambasted the Chinese Communist Party for their constant abuses against human rights in Tibet, and elsewhere in China. Peggy Nash, MP, voiced her support on the loudspeaker over the telephone from Ottawa; while Cheri Dinovo, MPP, showed up twice on the day to rally the crowd and chastise the much-scorned building behind her. Michael Craig, head of China Rights Network, also showed up to remind the people gathered about the atrocities that were constantly being carried out in Tibet under the guise of peace and security.
Various members of the Joint Action Committee also joined the charge in boosting the energy and the moral outrage of marchers. Tsering Lama, National Director, SFT Canada, called out the Tibetans in the rally to further lend to the cause for the freedom of Tibet, and reminded everyone gathered about the upcoming Olympics Torch rally in San Francisco. She urged her fellow Tibetans to denounce this illegal charade of harmony and modernization, a farce on the “top of our Mt. Everest” while millions of Tibetans in Tibet languish under the peril of the Chinese Communist Party. She also implored everyone to donate whatever they can to the 2-week, 24-hour Tibetan festival in Canada that will occur simultaneously with the Olympics games.
Towards the middle of the protest in front of the Chinese Consulate Building, a couple of youth snuck behind the walls and managed to get to the rooftop of the building. The boys, one of them of minor age, then proceeded to bring the flag of China down from the pole, and hang the Tibetan flag in its place. This spontaneous action further fueled the energy of the protesters below, as they cheered and applauded the youth for symbolically undermining China’s authority over its own building, and in effect, over Tibet. The boys didn’t manage to completely raise the Tibetan flag, but their inspiring and courageous act of dissent enraptured the emotions of the protesters, many of whom held their breath when the two youth were eventually detained by the Consulate officials. No visible damage of property was inflicted on the building, save for a roughed up Chinese flag, and the youth were compliant with the Chinese consulate officials who stopped the action and detained the two.
The protesters were very worried about the welfare of the two youth and demanded that they be released from the Chinese Consulate building. Some of the marchers who were close to the youth were visibly agitated and were told to calm down by the organizers lest they jeopardize the situation of the two detained. Eventually, the police in the area informed the organizers that the boys wouldn’t be released unless the protesters disbanded and vacated the street and surrounding area. At the urge of the various organizers, the marchers began to stow away the flags and placards and call it a day. At the conclusion of the rally, when most of the protesters had left, the police informed the waiting organizers that the two youth will have to be investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) because “the two had violated the laws on international soil, and hence, the Toronto police had no authority on the matter, and it will be left up to the RCMP to investigate and carry out further actions.” At the time of this reporting, the boys are still under investigation by the RCMP, and are being charged, the details of which are not available at the moment.
The various turn of events at the rally and the impressive turnout of Tibetans and Tibetan supporters made this year’s March 10 uprising one of the most memorable in Toronto. All of the gathered participants were emboldened by the need to contribute for the sake of a free Tibet, and the various organizers of the event beamed at the success and timing of the event. We are all permanently pressed to the phone in finding out the latest details from the two detained youth, and will keep you updated on the changes as they occur. For now, the rally, covered heavily by local and national media, will feature prominently in the discussions of every Tibetan household, and will no doubt, create a new sense of momentum and hope for those that still dream of a free Tibet and a return to their homeland.