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Fierce criticism leads B.C. premier to ditch Yoga Day event in Vancouver

Last Updated Jun 12, 2015 at 5:05 pm PDT

The politics of yoga has prompted British Columbia Premier Christy Clark to drop out of a mass yoga session on a downtown Vancouver bridge that will be closed for the event. Clark is shown during a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, January 30, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

VANCOUVER – A mass yoga session touted by British Columbia’s premier as a way to strengthen ties with India has collapsed under the weight of political opposition.

Christy Clark’s plan to close a major bridge in downtown Vancouver to celebrate International Yoga Day was met with opponents saying the event showcased the government’s misplaced priorities.

On Friday, a week after she made the announcement, Clark said the giant yoga class scheduled for June 21 will be cancelled.

“Unfortunately, the focus of the proposed Burrard Street Bridge event has drifted towards politics, getting in the way of the spirit of community and inner reflection,” she said. “It was for that reason I decided not to participate.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted International Yoga Day when he visited B.C. in April, and Clark said last week that millions of people around the world celebrate the event, which is sanctioned by the United Nations.

Criticism erupted soon after Clark announced plans for “Om the Bridge,” with residents questioning everything from its location to the $150,000 cost.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said Friday that the premier should have focused on aboriginal issues because June 21 is also national Aboriginal Day.

“On the face of it, I found Premier Clark’s idea to host an international yoga event on the Burrard Street Bridge to be completely flakey,” he said. “But at the same time, I also felt it was a blatant political opportunism.”

Phillip said he was particularly concerned about Clark’s decision to promote International Yoga Day over national Aboriginal Day because of the recent release of a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which called on Canadians to change their relationship with First Nations.

Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan said that while Clark has said she didn’t want to mix yoga and politics, she is responsible for doing just that.

“Where this event went sideways was that it was an expense of public dollars that seemed wasteful,” Horgan said. “Millionaires get tax breaks and the premier shuts down a road so she can have a yoga class. I think that offended people.”

Children’s entertainer Raffi, who created the #ShunTheBridge hashtag to voice his criticism, tweeted that the money should now be spent on education, “where it’s needed.”

Before announcing the event was cancelled, Clark tweeted that she would not be participating, prompting retailer Lululemon and YYoga, a chain of yoga studios, to pull their sponsorships.

AltaGas soon followed, with spokesman John Lowe saying the company would withdraw its $10,000 sponsorship.

Lululemon and YYoga said in separate statements that their intentions were pure but they had heard disappointment and frustration from the community.

“We hoped that our intentions would shine through but that has not been the case,” YYoga founder Terry McBride said.

He said the company is working on holding an event in a park to “reflect the tradition of yoga and the wishes of our community.”

Lululemon spokeswoman Jill Batie said the company is “taking a deep cleansing breath and over the next several days,” and still intends to hold a yoga celebration.

– With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria