David Matas’s downtown Winnipeg office is lined with shelves of bursting file folders, bookcases displaying legal texts and numerous holiday greeting cards – and two small suitcases ready at a moment’s notice for the immigration and refugee lawyer’s next international meeting.
Nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize with David Kilgour for their findings on the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong members by the Chinese government, Matas’s reach is not only local and national, but international as well.
In coordination with the Vancouver-based Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong, Matas has dropped the court case seeking to seize and bury the bodies that were on display in Winnipeg at Bodies…The Exhibition.
While he cites Premier Exhibition’s decision to stop touring Bodies…The Exhibition due to financial reasons a success, he notes that this does not address all of his concerns.
“My concern is to stop the killing of Falun Gong for organs, so even if the Bodies exhibition had been seized here, it wouldn’t stop the killing of Falun Gong,” he said.
Judith and Maria Cheung, local Falun Gong members not affiliated with the coalition, have been vocal protestors of Bodies…The Exhibition and plan to continue seeking changes to legislation.
“I was speaking with Coun. John Orlikow to see if there are any possibilities of changing city bylaws so that if this type of exhibition comes again, the city can stop it,” said Maria Cheung.
Orlikow, councillor for the River Heights-Fort Garry ward, notes that there are currently no bylaws in place to prevent similar exhibitions from happening if there is any doubt about the origins of the bodies on display.
“While there is no timeline right now, we are committed to looking at what other cities like Seattle and New York have done in this area,” said Orlikow. “We’ll bring a bylaw to the standing policy committee and council to stop similar exhibitions from taking place in Winnipeg.”
THE MAKINGS OF A NOBEL PEACE PRIZE NOMINEE
While Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese political activist, was ultimately awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, David Matas is far from disappointed.
“This sends a better message to the world, that Norway is willing to confront China by giving the prize to someone still in jail,” said Matas.
He notes that while it was an honour to have been nominated, it was also a tactic.
“There was a need to have a Nobel Peace Prize that related to human rights in China, and various other activists over the years have been nominated,” he said.
If anything, Matas and Kilgour’s nomination draws further attention to the research they’ve done, he adds.
“Our nomination has added to the momentum around human rights in China,” said Matas.
Fellow nominee David Kilgour was the Minister of State for Asia-Pacific from 2002 to 2003.
He notes that the prize not only went to the most deserving recipient, but that their work supports Liu Xiaobo’s efforts in securing human rights in China.
“Together, Matas and I have visited at least 50 countries speaking about our findings and research about the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong for medical tourists,” he said.
Not only have Matas and Kilgour published their extensive findings in the book Bloody Harvest and travelled widely to speak, but they’ve done so as volunteers, adds Kilgour, and even faced intimidation for their work.
“I was shot at when I was speaking in Brisbane, Australia on the harvesting of organs from the Falun Gong,” confirmed Matas.
This intimidation is just one part of the broader attempts by the Chinese government to shut down conversation about human rights abuses, noted Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Etobicoke who nominated Matas and Kilgour.
“It is unthinkable that a government would try to bully and intimidate a Nobel committee, but that reinforced the importance of the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Prize to a jailed Chinese national,” he said.
David Matas continues to work on the issue of human rights not only by taking on challenging immigration cases through his private legal practice, but also with Beyond Borders, an organization dedicated to stopping child trafficking.
He also sat on the Canadian Museum of Human Rights content advisory committee, helping to determine how the history of human rights in Canada would be told.
Matas notes that this, combined with his work as president of the Canadian Council for Refugees and senior honorary council for the B’nai B’rith, an organization that tackles anti-Semitism, allows him to act on values he’s maintained since his youth.
“When I was young, I wanted a way to act upon the lessons learned from the Holocaust, and human rights law was a way for me to do that,” he said.
David Matas and David Kilgour’s report can be viewed online at: www.organharvestinvestigation.net.
Published in Volume 65, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 20, 2011)