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The Dalai Lama, left, greets the crowd prior to a panel discussion with the Reverend Mpho Tutu, right, in Vancouver Sunday. The Dalai Lama is visiting Vancouver to take part in the World Peace Summit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
The Dalai Lama, left, greets the crowd prior to a panel discussion with the Reverend Mpho Tutu, right, in Vancouver Sunday. The Dalai Lama is visiting Vancouver to take part in the World Peace Summit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Tories give Dalai Lama a wide berth Add to ...

The Dalai Lama began a week-long visit to Canada Sunday, preaching his traditional gospel of peace, compassion and forgiveness.

But unlike previous Canadian visits by the spiritual Tibetan leader, this time members of the Conservative government seem to be staying far away from the revered Buddhist monk with the engaging chuckle.

"[Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence]Cannon has no plans to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit," ministry spokesman Rodney Moore confirmed .

Nor are there any announced meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper or other cabinet members, two of whom made a point of journeying to Vancouver in 2006 to greet the Dalai Lama and present him with honorary Canadian citizenship. A year later, Mr. Harper held a 45-minute private meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Canada's high-profile recognition of the 74-year-old exile enraged China, which accuses the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of seeking independence for Tibet and instigating the violence that swept Tibetan areas of China last year.

Indeed, a statement from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver characteristically lashed out at the Dalai Lama's current appearance in the city.

"Wherever he goes, his purpose is merely to advocate separatism [in Tibet]" the Chinese statement said. "We hope people will not be deceived by him."

However, the Dalai Lama made no reference to China during his remarks to a sold-out audience at the University of B.C.'s Chan Centre yesterday, except for an aside that some people consider him a demon and others a God-king. "[Both of]these are nonsense," he said.

After his participation in the Vancouver Peace Summit and a series of panel discussions with several other Nobel Prize laureates and prominent innovators, the Dalai Lama will appear at events in Calgary and Montreal.

The government's apparent decision to shun the Dalai Lama during his visit likely reflects recent fence-mending efforts by the Tories to restore harmonious relations with China, ahead of an anticipated visit to the People's Republic by Mr. Harper.

Governor-General Michaëlle Jean had been scheduled to share the stage with the Dalai Lama yesterday, but abruptly cancelled her appearance last week.

Spokeswoman Marthe Blouin said the decision was prompted by family reasons and had nothing to do with political pressure, noting Ms. Jean intends to meet privately with the Dalai Lama on Tuesday.

"The Governor-General is free to make her own decisions … and does not need to have her schedule approved by the government," Ms. Blouin said in an e-mail.

At the Chan Centre, sitting cross-legged and shoeless on a comfortable black chair, the Dalai Lama surprised his reverential audience at one point by admitting he was stumped by a question posed by moderator Mary Robinson. The former UN high commissioner for human rights asked him about the role of dignity in human rights.

"I don't know," the Dalai Lama replied. After a moment of awkward silence, he chuckled merrily and added: "I think my right to say, 'I don't know,' is part of my dignity."

Earlier, the Dalai Lama took the news media to task for sensationalizing bad news. "People get the impression that humanity is something negative, that the future of humanity is doomed, and human beings are violent."

But acts of love and compassion are taken for granted by the news media "and don't become news," according to the Dalai Lama, who called for more balance in reporting the good and the bad of human beings.

Although he likes to refer to himself as a simple Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama is treated like a rock star almost everywhere he goes. Scores of TV crews and photographers recorded his arrival at the back entrance to the Chan Centre, where he was protected by a phalanx of stern-looking security guards.

All the same, it is considered unlikely that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson repeated the greeting given the Dalai Lama last week by Memphis Mayor Myron Lowery. "Hello, Dalai," Mr. Lowery said, as he gave his exalted visitor a fist bump.

With a report from Bill Curry in Ottawa

 

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