Twentieth Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre

Honourable senators, I might find this hard to read, but June 3 is the anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Though that is 12 hours from now, it is already June 3 in Beijing.

Honourable senators, it has been 20 years, but that horrific picture is engraved in my memory. It was June 3 in the early evening. I was with my CTV crew. We were a short distance from Tiananmen Square. Crowds shouted “Long live democracy” in Mandarin and they stood their ground, believing the small tank coming their way would stop. It did not.

Many died during the night and in the early morning hours of June 4. Hundreds were wounded. We still do not know how many. Maybe it was 300; maybe it was 3,000.

The weeks before the tragedy had been filled with excitement. China’s door to the Western world blew open and exhilarating breezes of freedom and democracy were blowing through the city. Young people were excited. There was a feeling of hope.

Growing numbers of young people were gathering in Tiananmen. By the end of the week, 100,000 people covered every inch of the square. We could feel a sense of celebration, not only from students but from workers, doctors and religious groups. Beijing felt like a liberated city. However, the mood and the weather would shift from warm to stifling and stormy. Pessimism replaced optimism.

We could almost hear the door that had been opening to greater freedom slam shut. Rumours began to circulate that the army was close by and that they were planning to put an end to the protests, but nobody wanted to believe that tanks and terror would replace hope.

The Canadian embassy had ordered nonessential staff to leave. Those who stayed behind were buying more food in the street markets to stock their kitchens in preparation for what was to come. I bought tickets for my family to fly to Hong Kong, but I stayed and reported on the historic tragedy that unfolded.

It was difficult. It was difficult as a reporter who had covered many world events. It was difficult to watch people die. It was difficult to watch students being crushed. Twenty years later, I have so many unanswered questions.

China is an economic powerhouse, a huge global player that is assuming more and more of a leadership role, but leadership means accountability. It means answering tough questions.

What happened to that couple who stopped me and my crew as I ran toward the square and said in broken English, “Please tell the world what is happening here”? Are they enjoying their old age?

What happened to the young man captured in photographs only a short distance from where I was, the young man who was arrested for standing bravely in broad daylight in front of tanks. Will his real story ever be told?

I wish I had more than three minutes to continue to tell this story, but I will continue it over the next few days.

History was made in Tiananmen Square during those warm weeks of April, May and June, but too many unanswered questions remain, and I am still waiting.