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Whistler sends watchdog letter to Beijing

Local politicians remind China of human rights declaration



Whistler politicians are flexing their Olympic muscles abroad, calling on the Mayor of Beijing to protect human rights in China.

At the last council meeting on July 5 council approved sending a letter to Mayor WANG Qishan Shizhang of Beijing, the host city of the 2008 Olympic Games, asking him to influence the Chinese government to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"If it isn’t us and we don’t do it now, then I don’t know who will and I don’t know when," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth in his bid for council support of the letter.

Days after council made their decision to send the letter a non-governmental report by former MP David Kilgour and lawyer David Matas found evidence that China is harvesting organs from live Falun Gong prisoners without their consent.

Falun Gong followers say it is a spiritual movement to improve physical and mental health. The Chinese government banned it as a cult in 1999.

The report emphasized the importance of the Whistler letter.

"I was shocked," said Forsyth. "If these are the kinds of things that happen, then who will stand up and do something about it…? This is a glorious opportunity we have (in Whistler). This is to me one of the legacies that can come out of Olympism. It’s not just about stadiums and great events. It’s about leveraging the power that we have when the world watches us to do something that’s right."

This isn’t the first time Forsyth has written to an international government to appeal to them to uphold human rights. He has been writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience for Amnesty International since the 1980s.

While he didn’t refer directly to Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) in his letter, Forsyth was moved to pen his missive after a letter from the organization to council in May, asking council to proclaim that month "Falun Dafa Month."

"When I saw the letter from Falun Dafa I thought ‘you know, I have an opportunity; these people have written to me,’" said Forsyth. "Usually I’m the one sending the letter and it dawned on me that I have some influence and I have some power and that could be used for the same ends that I’ve used writing for."

The letter carries more weight with the mayor of Whistler’s signature and official Resort Municipality of Whistler letterhead and so Forsyth took it to council.

Councillors Bob Lorriman and Gord McKeever voted against sending the letter directly to the mayor of Beijing, preferring instead to send it through more diplomatic channels via the federal government.