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Montreal Pride expels gay Hong Kong marchers, blaming 'threats by pro-Communists' to sabotage parade

Ian Young in Vancouver

Prominent Hong Kong gay rights activist Francis Tang Yiu-kwong flew to Canada expecting to march in Montreal's annual Pride parade alongside a group of LGBTQ immigrant Hongkongers.

But Tang was instead forced to march the route by himself in his rainbow T-shirt, after Montreal Pride organisers expelled the group, Free HK MTL, because of what the organisers called "threats of sabotage" by "pro-Communists".

Members of a WeChat group had discussed following Free HK MTL members then beating them up after the march.

Free HK MTL supports the Hong Kong protest movement, although Tang is not a member and he said he just wanted some company on the 2.7km walk. He was separately invited by Montreal Pride because of his efforts to set up the Hong Kong Pride march and his advocacy for gay rights.

Free HK MTL's co-founder, Henry Lam, blasted Montreal Pride for surrendering to threats of violence by retracting the group's registration.

"Why would they give in like this?" Lam asked. "Where is the bottom line?"

As for Tang, he wasn't entirely alone at the Canadian march on August 18.

He found himself trailed by dozens of flag-waving pro-China demonstrators who walked parallel to the official parade.

A photo from social media shows Hong Kong gay rights activist Henry Tang Yiu-kwong, circled in red, at the August 18 Montreal Pride march. It was shared on social media by a group that Free HK MTL characterised as "CCP". Photo: Free HK MTL alt=A photo from social media shows Hong Kong gay rights activist Henry Tang Yiu-kwong, circled in red, at the August 18 Montreal Pride march. It was shared on social media by a group that Free HK MTL characterised as "CCP". Photo: Free HK MTL

The unauthorised group " who were videoed singing the Chinese national anthem during the traditional moment of silence for victims of Aids and homophobic violence " didn't say anything to Tang, but left him feeling so "uncomfortable" he wrapped up his Hong Kong Pride flag and left the parade early.

"When I walked, they walked. When I stopped, they stopped," Tang said of the pro-China crowd.

Tang said he had no idea of the intentions of the group, nor whether they were trying to interact with him in a "positive or negative" way.

The South China Morning Post could not identify or contact the pro-China marchers. They were led for part of the parade by a man dressed in a pink shirt and chinos, apparently mimicking the Pride parade garb typically worn by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A WeChat group with 500 members had earlier discussed Free HK MTL's scheduled participation in the march, with one commenter suggesting that the marchers should be followed, then confronted at the finish line. "Wear something comfortable so we can beat them up," the commenter wrote, adding a laughing emoji.

Members of the group Free HK MTL, who were banned from the Montreal Pride march on August 18, held a separate gathering at a nearby park. Photo: Free HK MTL alt=Members of the group Free HK MTL, who were banned from the Montreal Pride march on August 18, held a separate gathering at a nearby park. Photo: Free HK MTL

Montreal Pride organisers told Free HK MTL the day before the parade that their registration was being rescinded on the advice of police for "security reasons", in light of the presence of political leaders including Trudeau.

"We have received police information of a potential attempt to sabotage the parade by pro-Communists in response to your participation in the parade," wrote Karl Boulanger, a board member of Montreal Pride. "Indeed, it seems that some groups would like to intervene in the parade to protest against your participation."

The email, seen by the Post, added "we unfortunately have to remove you from the parade for security reasons. The police authorities have been very clear on this issue".

But Montreal Police (SPVM) told the Post that they gave no such advice or warning.

"After verification, we did not find any communications between the SPVM and Montreal Pride regarding threats made by pro-communist or pro-China militants," said police spokesman Renaud Beauchemin.

Boulanger had told the Post that Montreal Pride "received threats of a sabotage the day before the Parade and had no choice to take the unfortunate decision to remove FREE HK MTL from the Parade for safety reasons and given our policy to not interfere in geopolitical conflicts".

Free HK MTL co-founder Henry Lam (left) and husband Guy Ho. Photo: Handout alt=Free HK MTL co-founder Henry Lam (left) and husband Guy Ho. Photo: Handout

He did not mention the police, and did not respond to a follow-up question about the disparity between the explanation he gave to Free HK MTL and the statement by SPVM.

Lam, who married his partner Guy Ho in Vancouver in 2011 then immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 2015, said he was dismayed by Montreal Pride's treatment of the 20 or so Free HK MTL marchers.

"Won't this just encourage more threats, not just from Chinese nationalists, but from anyone?" he asked.

He described the pro-China group as "upsetting and disruptive", and their presence on the sidelines of the march as inconsistent with the values of Pride.

He cited the moment caught on video when the group sang "March of the Volunteers" and waved Chinese flags during the moment of silence, as one bystander begged them with clasped hands to keep quiet, and others tried to hush them, saying "Please, stop it".

Tang said he would not have minded the group trailing him, except that tensions in Hong Kong were so high. He did not want to be photographed with them in case his position on the Hong Kong protests was misconstrued.

A photo of Tang at the parade, circled in red, was shared on social media, by a group that Free HK MTL characterised as "CCP".

The political protests in Hong Kong were "not my area", Tang said, and he wanted to make sure the goals of the Pride movement on Hong Kong " and his advocacy group, Gay Harmony " were not drawn into the conflict.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre), alongside his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and actor Antoni Porowski at the Montreal Pride Parade on August 18. Photo: AFP alt=Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre), alongside his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and actor Antoni Porowski at the Montreal Pride Parade on August 18. Photo: AFP

On the day of the parade, Free HK MTL held its own gathering of members and supporters in a nearby park.

Lam said that although Free HK MTL supported the Hong Kong protests it had hoped to share another message at Montreal Pride.

"We wanted to let the world know that Hongkongers embrace the same values [of Pride], of love and freedom," he said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.