The Calgary Tibetan community gathered to protest against China’s occupation of their country. PHOTO: KATE MACKENZIE.

Protesters gathered at the Calgary Chinese Consulate on Wednesday to mark the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China’s occupation of their homeland. 

“China is lying. People are dying,” the thirty-some protesters yelled from across the street.

The 1959 uprising forced thousands of Tibetans to leave their homes to escape Chinese persecution. 

Tsering Chophel, vice president of the Tibetan Association of Alberta, said he likely wouldn’t have been born had his parents not left Tibet in the early 60s. They walked across the Himalayas for weeks until they reached India, where Chophel grew up. 

“You would disappear in the middle of the night. You can be killed, jailed….tortured.”

Tsering chophel, vice president of the tibetan association of alberta

“I grew up in the exile community,” he said. “I want to go back, I want to see my country, but that’s not happening right now.” 

Tsering Chophel, vice president of the Tibetan Association of Alberta, at the March 10 gathering. PHOTO: KATE MACKENZIE.

Chophel said his situation is not unique. In the late 1960s, close to 100,000 Tibetans were displaced and fled to India and Nepal. 

Protester Pema Lektsog’s parents fled Tibet in 1962. She came to Canada when she was four-years-old as a refugee. 

Lektsog said many of the protesters were born in either Nepal or India after their parents fled the country. 

According to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Canada welcomed the first Tibetan refugees in March 1971. This group totalled 228 people and was one of the earliest non-European refugee groups to be accepted. 

Protester Pema Lektsog at the March 10 gathering, said she came to Canada as a child refugee. PHOTO: KATE MACKENZIE.

Silence legitimizes violation of human rights  

The past few years have highlighted China’s disregard for basic human rights, Chopel said, stating the Uyghur persecution, Hong Kong protests, and the two Canadian Michaels’ imprisonment as examples. 

He added that the same type of protest taking place in Calgary would lead to persecution in Tibet. 

“You would disappear in the middle of the night. You can be killed, jailed….tortured,” he said. “That’s the real situation in Tibet.”

“This is 2021, and today people are living without the basic freedoms that you and I take for granted,” Lektsog said. “We as Canadians have to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” 

Chopel said now is the time for Canada to take a stand against China. He suggests Canada create a bill similar to the Tibetan Policy and Support Act passed by the U.S. Congress in December. 

The law paves the way for a U.S. consulate in Tibet and creates an international coalition that will ensure the Tibetan Buddhist community appoints the next Dalai Lama without China’s interference. 

He’d like to see a Canadian embassy in Tibet as well as a special co-ordinator appointed to oversee the situation. He urges the Canadian government to speak up and have China come to the negotiating table to find a peaceful solution for Tibet. 

 “If you’re keeping silent, you’re legitimizing Chinese illegal occupation or torture,” he said. 

The Calgary Chinese consulate did not reply to an email for comment about the protests.