O Canada — Justice, Freedom and Humanity
Dear Canadians and fellows around the world:
My name is Paul LI, a Canadian citizen residing in Toronto. The Chinese Lunar New Year of 2021 coincided with Valentine’s Day and Family Day, bringing together a joyful moment after an unrest year where families were kept apart and many households tasted the bitterness of isolation.
For me and my father though, the New Year eve family gathering has been an extravagant wish for 15 years. 2021 marked the 15th anniversary that my father Xiaobo Li had to spend his new year in custody, simply for upholding his belief as a Falun Gong practitioner — a peaceful spiritual discipline centered on the values of Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance.
The brutal persecution of Falun Gong was launched in 1999 by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its then-leader Jiang Zemin. Under the ruling of the CCP, China, once known as ‘the land of the divine’, had become a totalitarian regime adopting the ideology of socialism and communism. Under this system, any thinking or belief that doesn’t conform to the Party’s core worldviews (atheist, Marxism, materialism, etc.) is scrutinized, suppressed and persecuted. Compared to the crackdown on the Uhygers, underground Christians and Hong Kong pro-democratic protesters, the persecution of Falun Gong was the largest in scale, yet the least reported.
In 2004, my father was sentenced for 8 years in prison for his faith. Far across the ocean, I entered my undergraduate studies at the University of Waterloo. My school breaks were often spent on flight back to my hometown and visitations at the local prison.
In 2009, two years after graduation, I left my Java developer job in downtown Toronto and relocated to my hometown in China, so that I could be closer to my father, and wait quietly for the day of reunion.
In 2012, my father was back home, he survived 8 years of solitary confinement, mental and physical torture, humiliation, food & sleep deprivations, and forced labor. His left eye was nearly blind. His income was cut off and his social benefits taken away. Family members and his former colleagues kept distance from him out of fear.
As hard as it could be, my father was home and I was able to keep his company and support him. I also got a chance to really understand his faith in Falun Gong and the reason he was unbending amid the toughest ordeal. Between 2012 to 2014, I started the meditative practice myself, rejoicing with my renewed worldviews and cherishing the peaceful days spent with my father.
Along with many fellow Falun Gong adherents in China, we resorted to distributing pamphlets and flyers as one of a few grassroots efforts to raise awareness of the brutal and unjustified persecution. Apparently, handing out literature exposing human rights atrocity in China is deemed as a serious “threat to national security”.
In 2014, my father and I were abducted by local police while handing out pamphlets; we were thrown into the local detention center. My request to communicate with the Canadian Embassy as a citizen of Canada was rejected and I was rushed to the airport by security officers for deportation within days. The night of my departure from detention center was the last time I saw my father in person.
In 2015, my father was sentenced for another 8-year term in prison. Ever since then I could only hear scare pieces of news from my aunt, who was allowed a 3~5 minutes phone call with my father each month. I sent numerous letters and special occasion cards to my father, only to be intercepted by the prison guards.
Back in Toronto, I continued to grow my career as a Java developer, I got established and started a family. Part of my heart is always tied to my father and many fellow practitioners enduring the same hardship and injustice an ocean apart. I told my stories at press conferences on Parliament Hills, I got involved in activities organized by Falun Gong adherents to raise awareness of the on-going persecution. I shared my experience and collected signature for petitions on the street every morning before heading off to work.
I cannot chat with my father or cook a holiday dinner for him, yet I hope he could feel that I am always there for him, and I haven’t stopped fighting for him for a single day. No matter how humble my voice seems to be, I speak out as much as I can, and believe I will be heard if I keep on.
Canada was one of the first countries to stand up against the Communist totalitarian regime and condemn the persecution of Falun Gong. The Canadian government was instrumental in rescuing Falun Gong prisoners of conscience during the early years of the persecution. However, the Communism regime’s effort to infiltrate democratic nations and to silence critiques on its tarnished human rights record has gained much success during the past years, so that the Falun Gong, together with other human rights issues have become a tricky topic that many politicians try to dodge in the open forum.
I would like to remind my fellow citizens that it was not only the two Michaels that fall victims to Chinese regime’s diplomatic retaliation. Ms. SUN Qian, a Canadian Citizen and successful entrepreneur, was arrested at her house in Beijing in 2017 and sentenced to 8 years in prison in June 2020, days after Prime Minister Trudeau rejected calls to release the Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Ms. SUN Qian is also a Falun Gong practitioner.
I hope our government and our great Canadians can open their eyes. As we open our doors to the economy, trades and deals of the CCP, we are inevitably influenced by its socialist & communist ideologies, politics and agendas. Let’s not forget the Canadian values and the noble causes our nation once proudly stood up for — Justice, Freedom and Humanity; Let’s not let the tragedy experienced by my father and millions in China today stem from our home and native land; Let’s guard our traditions and conscience from corruption and self-interests, so that we can keep our land glorious and free!
May the new year to utter in good fortune and prosperity. I take this opportunity to call on attention and support from our Canadian parliament and people, for my father, and for millions of families who had to sacrifice their blood and life for freedom.