By ROD MICKLEBURGH
Vancouver — British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor, Iona Campagnolo, publicly endorsed the cause of the Dalai Lama yesterday, praising his campaign for what she called "political and spiritual freedom" in Tibet.
Ms. Campagnolo, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister with a background in human rights, told the Tibetan leader that she also supported his work toward "a just transformation for the people of your beloved homeland."
The strong words from the Lieutenant-Governor stand in sharp contrast to the verbal bobbing and weaving of Canada's elected leaders, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, who have shied away from any mention of the Dalai Lama's political role in the struggle for increased Tibetan autonomy within China.
Both Mr. Martin, who will meet the Dalai Lama in Ottawa later this week, and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who held a luncheon for the Tibetan leader on Sunday, stress that their meetings only concern the Dalai Lama's status as a spiritual leader.
Ms. Campagnolo made her remarks at an extraordinary ceremony at the University of British Columbia that bestowed honorary degrees on three past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize — Iranian human-rights activist Shirin Ebadi, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
Calling the Dalai Lama "much loved," the Lieutenant-Governor paid tribute to him for moving Tibetan spirituality into the mainstream of global consciousness.
More controversially, she added: "You have our very highest esteem and respect, sir, as you continue to work toward political and spiritual freedom and a just transformation for the people of your beloved homeland."
Her statement of support for the Dalai Lama is bound to anger China, which has denounced the Tibetan leader as a "splittist," likened him to a Quebec separatist and urged politicians not to see him during his 19-day visit to Canada.
Mention of the need for both political and spiritual freedom in Tibet is considered a no-no by most Western leaders, who recognize China's claim to the isolated region and who generally mute their criticism of periodic harsh crackdowns by Chinese authorities there.
However, Ms. Campagnolo, appointed to her viceregal post in September, 2001, has a record of previous human-rights work in Africa, Asia and South America.
She also served as chairwoman of the International Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Development, headed for a long time by former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
It is considered rare for a lieutenant-governor to speak out on sensitive issues, particularly one involving China when Western countries are eagerly seeking closer economic ties with the booming Communist country.
Herb LeRoy, Ms. Campagnolo's private secretary, said no one from the government vetted her prepared comments.
"These are her remarks. She writes all her own speeches."
Chinese consular officials could not be reached for comment yesterday on Ms. Campagnolo's statement.
Isabelle Savard, a spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, said she did not think the Lieutenant-Governor's remarks went much beyond past positions taken toward Tibet and the Dalai Lama by the Canadian government.
"We are very clear. We do not recognize an independent Tibet. We recognize Chinese sovereignty over Tibet," Ms. Savard said.
Ms. Campagnolo also had a powerful message of support for Ms. Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her continuing battles for democracy and women's rights against the rigid clerics of Iran.
Ms. Campagnolo thanked the "very brave" Iranian activist lawyer for "taking the enlightenment of the feminist agenda into a world where its power and truth has known too little light.
"We know, as you do, that until all women everywhere are free, no women anywhere will be truly free!" Ms. Campagnolo declared.
Ms. Ebadi responded with forceful words of her own.
"Those who, on the pretext of cultural relativity, refuse to execute democracy and respect human rights are, in fact, ossified authoritarian dictators," she told her appreciative UBC audience.
"Democracy and human rights are a worthy cause in all cultures and all races. Terror, violence, torture and humiliation of human beings in every society and every state is an unworthy cause."
Archbishop Tutu, meanwhile, evoked gales of laughter as he reminded the crowd that South Africa was about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid.
"We just had our third general election and we even know how to count our votes," the renowned anti-apartheid crusader said, referring to the lengthy voting controversy in the last U.S. presidential election.