Statement from the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Our account of events that took place on 23 June 2019 between John Brooman, CEO of Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival and Gerry Smith, member of the Falun Gong


This Statement has been issued in order to clarify recent media coverage which has been inaccurate and misleading.


On Sunday, June 23rd Mr. John Brooman (CEO of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival) took a quiet, solitary seat at a picnic table to have a late lunch. He intentionally distanced himself from Festival-goers in order to refuel and recharge. After he sat down, Mr. Gerry Smith and a young boy approached and joined him at his table. According to Mr. Brooman “I immediately felt my space was being invaded and wondered why Mr. Smith chose to sit with me.” Mr. Brooman had hoped to eat alone. There were at least seven empty picnic tables to choose from. However, Mr. Smith seemed friendly, so the two men chatted.

Earlier in the Festival, Mr. Brooman had been radioed to seek his guidance as to whether our Festival wanted a group of Falun Gong peaceful protestors who had been distributing printed material to our Festival-goers to be moved away from outside the gates of our Festival. He declined, opting to let them continue. When Mr. Smith sat down at his table with a Falun Dafa (another name for Falun Gong) shirt over another t-shirt, Mr. Brooman knew that he was part of that political protest group.

Mr. Smith began talking about issues in China, specifically those involving Falun Gong. Mr. Smith pushed for Mr. Brooman’s opinion on political issues in China, and asked if he supported genocide within the country. Mr. Brooman replied that he did not support genocide anywhere in the world. When pushed to further discuss Chinese political issues, Mr. Brooman informed Mr. Smith that the goal that day was to run a family friendly festival, and that our Festival did not support any protests of a political nature on our site. Mr. Brooman asked Mr. Smith to stop the conversation, as it was not something he was comfortable discussing in that moment. He did not demand that Mr. Smith take off his t-shirt, but instead said that it would help if he removed it. Mr. Smith was wearing another shirt beneath the Falun Gong t-shirt, and said he had no issue removing it and voluntarily did so. The interaction was non-aggressive and amicable.

Mr. Brooman emphasized that he was just an event organizer trying to finish his meal, but Mr. Smith continued with his political advocacy. Mr. Brooman admitted, when questioned, that the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China was a Festival sponsor. When it was clear that Mr. Smith would neither drop this topic nor leave the picnic table, Mr. Brooman informed him that he could call security but would not do so out of respect. Mr. Brooman says: “I wished them a good afternoon and left Mr. Smith and the young boy he had brought.”

Upon later being informed by email by Grace Wollensak that Mr. Smith was hurt by the interaction, Mr. Brooman was surprised, as that was not the impression he was left with. He asked to apologize directly to Mr. Smith, but was not given the opportunity to do so. Mr. Brooman’s interaction with Gerry Smith led him to believe that he was a kind man who was supporting something he believed in. However, Mr. Brooman also felt that the interaction was intentional and targeted from the beginning.

According to Mr. Brooman, “The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China is one of our Festival’s many sponsors and provided $10,000 to our Festival this year, which is approximately 1% of our overall budget. Dragon boating originated in China, so it is natural that we welcome such a sponsorship and the links that it develops to and within the Chinese-Canadian community. Sponsorships such as this allow our Festival to be accessible to all community members without the barrier of an admission fee.  No sponsors of our Festival dictate any decisions made in the day-to-day operations of our event.”

The issue is not with Falun Gong or with peaceful protesting. The issue is with the logistics and suitability of allowing political protesting on the site of our family-friendly recreational, sporting, and cultural festival. To allow one protest group to do so would require our Festival to either allow any group to protest, or to vet groups before deciding which such groups may be allowed on site. Our Festival does not claim to be an authority on, or a platform for, political issues and thus we are not comfortable selectively allowing any political protest groups. Our Festival provides a family-friendly, free event that all members of our community and beyond can attend. In order to ensure that this remains possible, our Festival maintains that the safest and most suitable option is to not support nor allow political protests of any kind on site.

Warren Creates, Founding Director and Vice-Chair stated: “Our Festival chooses to focus on what we do best: staging world-class annual water and ice dragon boat races, which promote wellness and teamwork while raising important funds – so far $4.6 million – for local charities.”

Mr. Creates would also like to draw attention to our organization’s diversity policy, which emphasizes respect for all life experiences and backgrounds. Our Festival is proud to have attendees from different neighbourhoods, countries, religions, and more. We hope that everyone feels welcome, comfortable, and safe while attending our Festival.

This Statement has been issued in order to clarify recent media coverage which has been inaccurate and misleading.The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival has no further comment at this time.

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