Over 1,000 people stood in David Lam Park in downtown Vancouver Sunday to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, during an annual candlelight vigil that took on much greater meaning this year, according to organizers.
The Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement (VSSDM) has, for 33 years, gathered a smaller number of people at two memorials in Vancouver and Burnaby, and typically marches to the gates of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) consulate compound on Granville Street.
The event normally coincides with the June 4, 1989 anniversary of the killing of thousands of Chinese citizens, at the hands of the Chinese government — what is now a global rallying cry against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
While the “democracy walk” to the consulate took place on May 27, the society took note of the amplified interest by moving the vigil to the large park this year.
“This is the fourth anniversary that the national security law was imposed; Hong Kong people cannot commemorate June 4,” said founding VSSDM member Mabel Tung, who estimates about 3,000 people attended the rally throughout the day.
In 2019, millions of Hong Kong residents marched against Beijing’s growing takeover of the city's democratic institutions. But by 2020, the completed authoritarian takeover coupled by the COVID-19 pandemic snuffed out any last remnants of memorializing the massacre, said Tung.
“Even if you hold flowers, the police say you’re inciting; they put you in jail; they arrested several people last night in Hong Kong,” Tung told Glacier Media.
“So here we are in a free country; we can say our mind and commemorate this important day where so many people sacrificed their lives, killed by the brutal dictatorship and government,” said Tung.
Interest has peaked on two accounts, said Tung: there’s been an uptick in new immigrants from Hong Kong since Beijing’s takeover; plus, the ongoing national debate about foreign interference by the PRC in Canadian politics has Canadians of Chinese ethnicity concerned and in search of solutions, including a foreign agents registry, said Tung.
“As people say, the struggle of man against dictatorship or against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. So we have to remember this history and share it with the next generation,” said Tung.
That memory is what resonated with Tso Kinman and Wing Kinman, who brought their eight-year-old son to the vigil.
“Hong Kong people lost everything,” said Tso Kinman, who came to Vancouver in January but hopes to return to Hong Kong some day, as “I’m still a Hong Kong guy.”
The Kinmans, both 44, said they remember watching the bloodshed of Tiananmen Square on TV, as children, and likened them to the actions of the Beijing-directed police in Hong Kong, in 2019.
While Tso Kinman said he is not concerned to speak to a reporter about his concerns, many attendees wore face coverings and some did not want to be photographed or identified, including a 25-year-old man who came to Vancouver on the Hong Kong Pathway immigration program.
“I feel sad we can’t gather again,” said the man who was among the millions of street protesters in 2018 and 2019, then as a student.
The man was asked to elaborate on his concerns about the CCP documenting events such as this.
“It’s very real. When I told my parents I will join this gathering they feared I will get a picture and I will not go back to Hong Kong. But I will definitely go back to Hong Kong; my parents are there, my friends are there,” said the man.
Sitting next to the man was a friend of his, dressed up as a protester, with a gas mask and yellow umbrella, which symbolizes the Hong Kong democracy movement.
Despite the sombre theme, the vigil was brought to life with live music and people waving flags of Canada, Taiwan and colonial Hong Kong.
There were also information stands to educate passersby and to sell books about the movement.
One stand showed a lineup of annual photos of the Tiananmen Square protests in Hong Kong.
“You see that; in 2020? Darkness,” said Kenneth Tung, pointing to a black frame.
“That’s because they don’t allow it anymore,” said Tung.
“I’m a proud Canadian for over four decades. But I read the news and know what happened to Hong Kong.”
“They lied to the people. They lied to the world,” said Tung of the CCP.
Tung said Canada should institute a registry for agents of foreign governments, be it lobbyists or paid promoters of foreign special interests. Most Western nations have such a registry and use it to help prevent political and social manipulation.
“We have to set our foreign policy correctly, protect our democracy and institution. We know there is infiltration; we know from Hong Kong,” said Tung, a retiree who came with a bullhorn, strapped across his yellow shirt.
Still, there remains debate on what exactly should be done to combat foreign interference. Tung suggests a registry for all governments. So does advocacy group Alliance Canada Hong Kong, deeming a “country agnostic” approach more suitable, to curb potential discrimination.
Also attending the vigil was Richmond resident Kenny Chiu, the Canadian politician at the centre of a foreign interference scandal. There were media reports of intelligence leaks indicating that during the 2021 federal election campaign the Chinese consulate in Vancouver aided Liberal candidates, including elected Liberal MP Parm Bains against incumbent Chiu. Bains, in response, told the CBC he won it "fair and square."
Glacier Media first reported on Chiu's challenges prior to the election.
Chiu is calling for a registry that targets only “hostile states” and said he was pleased with such recommendations made at the House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations.
At the vigil was Coun. Lenny Zhou, who, since being elected, has publicly supported the pro-democracy groups, including acknowledging the Uyghur genocide and the massacre/Hong Kong democracy — two of the CCP’s so-called “five poisons” that threaten its stability.
"I have been attending the commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre for nearly 10 consecutive years,” Zhou told Glacier Media by email.
Zhou said those attending the vigil “are the fundamental components of the democracy movement, not just the elected officials."
He hopes "more elected officials will participate in the pro-democracy events."