Greetings and warm wishes apparently issued in a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a new group promoting ties between Tibet and China appalled Tibetan activists in Canada this week.
Except the letter and another one purportedly written by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen have been called out as fakes by spokespeople from the Prime Minister’s Office and the minister’s office. And a spokeswoman for the group at the centre of the controversy says it had nothing to do with the hoax.
The letter claiming to be from Mr. Trudeau was dated April 17, days before the Saturday inauguration gala for the Tibetan Association of Canada.
Online video of the gala shows that Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Vincent Ke and Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis attended the event.
“I’m pleased to extend my warmest greetings to everyone attending the 2019 Tibetan Association of Canada gala,” read the letter, which claimed to come from Mr. Trudeau. The letter is on what looks like the Prime Minister’s letterhead.
Its circulation on social media angered Tibetan groups in Canada. However, Amreet Kaur, a spokeswoman for the PMO, said no such letter was sent.
“A letter of greeting was not sent by the Prime Minister to the Tibetan Association of Canada. Our office is looking into this matter further,” Ms. Kaur said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Chinese-language media reported on the weekend event of the group at a restaurant in the Scarborough neighbourhood of Toronto. According to business registry information, the group was formed on April 12. Qin Wen is listed as one of the directors.
“Our association for sure didn’t forge [it] … we are innocent,” she said in an interview, adding she learned about this incident from news Tuesday and found it strange.
She said the group is simply a friendship association to unite people from Sichuan, China.
“Many Tibetans [here are originally] from Sichuan. … We hope we can help each other and get together on holidays. Just this simple.”
But the group’s efforts to highlight China’s positive influence in Tibet has raised the ire of Tibetan Canadians.
Sonam Chokey, national director for Students for a Free Tibet Canada, said the new group doesn’t represent the view of most Tibetan Canadians.
"For most of the Tibetans who live here in Canada, we would say this is not a legitimate representation of Tibetans here,” she said in an interview.
“For us to see this, this is definitely very worrying and very troublesome that they are trying to push Chinese propaganda again here in Canada.”
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month marked 60 years since Tibet’s Dalai Lama fled into exile amid an abortive uprising against Chinese control. China clamped down and the Himalayan region has not gained the autonomy it seeks.
China doesn’t recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile and hasn’t held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010. Beijing accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China.
Dorjee Tenzin, president of the Tibetan Association of Canada, said in a speech to the gala posted on YouTube that China has helped develop Tibet dramatically and that the goal of this group is to make more overseas Tibetans aware of the contribution from the Chinese government.
“As overseas Tibetans, we deeply feel the tremendous changes happening in Tibet,” he said.
The Tibetan Association of Canada is a member of the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO), an umbrella platform that serves more than 90 organizations.
Wei Chengyi, honorary chairman of the CTCCO, who attended the gala, said he knew nothing about the hoax letter.
“I wasn’t responsible for [this event],” he said in an interview.
In a video comment, Weng Guoning, president of the CTCCO, said most members of Tibetan Association of Canada are or will be against Tibet separation.
Mr. Karygiannis said the group presented the alleged letter from Mr. Trudeau at the event, but declined to comment on it.
He noted he was invited by both the association and the CTCCO.
“This was a local organization, they sent me an invitation. I am a local councillor. ... This is my world and I went,” he said in an interview, adding that he gets hundreds of invitations from Chinese groups and from other ethnic organizations.
Mr. Ke said he attended a number of events within the constituency of Don Valley North and the surrounding area, but declined to comment on the forged letter and the association.
With a report from Associated Press