Alberta tourism agencies drop plan to work with Chinese performing arts group


EDMONTON — Tourism agencies in Alberta have dropped plans to work with a Chinese performing arts group that isn’t supported by the Beijing government.

The Divine Performing Arts Chinese Spectacular is a New York-based group made up of expatriate Chinese. While most of their dance and vocal performances involve traditional Chinese themes, some touch on more controversial material including human rights, religious freedom and the persecution of the Falun Gong.

In an e-mail obtained by The Canadian Press, a Travel Alberta official says the government agency must rescind its plan to help facilitate the group’s visit to the province after it was contacted by the Chinese consulate in Calgary.

In another e-mail, Tourism Calgary says it must withdraw its support of an opening reception for the group set for April 30, and cancelled a ceremony where the performers were to be given white cowboy hats and made honorary citizens of Calgary.

“In Alberta the Chinese consulate has contacted two of our sponsors and basically threatened them that their business negotiations with China would be jeopardized if they went ahead with sponsorship deals,” said Caylan Ford, a spokeswoman for New Tang Dynasty Television, a non-profit Chinese language station affiliated with the arts group.

“The real issue is that this type of interference is something that we have seen in nearly every city and every country that this tour group has performed in. This is a systematic violation of another country’s sovereignty by the Chinese government.”

Ford said the group’s tour that is to feature shows at the Alberta Jubilee Auditoriums in Calgary and Edmonton in late April and early May are still on.

Travel Alberta managing director Derek Coke-Kerr called the situation with the Divine Performing Arts Chinese Spectacular an unfortunate mistake.

He said a junior official with the provincial government agency began talks with the group about a sponsorship deal with that would have involved ads on satellite TV broadcasts into China in exchange for accommodation and transportation in Alberta.

Coke-Kerr said that when it was understood that such broadcasts by New Tang Dynasty Television are not sanctioned by the Chinese government, Travel Alberta withdrew from the sponsorship discussions.

“We are not allowed to sponsor events,” Coke-Kerr said. “The Chinese Consul General called me and asked me for clarification for what our involvement was. The Chinese did express their concerns about what our involvement was.”

Coke-Kerr said no tourism agency in Canada has legal approval from Beijing to advertise tourism products in China.

Tourism Calgary officials declined to comment.

The agency has been presenting white Smithbilt cowboy hats to honour dignitaries since 1948.

During the ceremony individuals take an oath celebrating Calgary’s hospitality and spirit and seal the honour by shouting “Yahoo” in front of witnesses.

Celebrities and dignitaries who have accepted white cowboy hats over the years include the G-8 World Summit leaders, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Mickey Mouse.