Extreme-right misinformation is flooding Chinese media in Canada and observers say there’s virtually nothing stopping it

Ongoing:

Some of the posts suggest teaching sexual and gender identity in schools could cause an AIDS outbreak. Others warn Mexicans are streaming across the border to sell drugs or that hatred against Muslims is only natural. The articles are called misinformation by some and flat out hate speech by others.

They are but a sampling of the far-right rhetoric on Chinese-language websites and social media platforms like WeChat, often described as a cross between Facebook and Twitter. Observers warn that there’s almost nothing challenging a torrent of anti-refugee, anti-LGBT and anti “white liberal” literature spiking online.

“When this privileged group settled down in Canada, they will have an easy life without evening finding a job,” reads one article touching on Muslim refugees when discussing Chinese voters. It was written by contributor Feng Si Hai on Chinese-language news publication Lahoo.ca. in March 2019.

“What’s more, some of them could make trouble, break the law and even harm a child. It is natural that hatred toward them will arise. The religious conflicts will make the situation worse. How could our society be peaceful?!” reads the article.

Such sentiments have also popped up in Chinese political organizations and churches, according to community members. They worry that barriers to truthful information combined with conservative politics are leading to the exploitation of Chinese people by far-right elements and could hamper the ability of Chinese people in Canada to make informed decisions.

There are votes to be gained as Canadian political parties reach out to immigrants, and Chinese voters are one of the largest pools.

Chinese people represent about 20 per cent of minorities in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, with hundreds of thousands living in Vancouver and Toronto alone. In those cities, some ridings are more than 50 per cent Chinese.

They are increasingly being courted by far right content or outright misinformation created by writers who often use pen names.

For example, Feng, who has also written that a child being proud of having two mothers is a “scorn on human ethics,” is not the writer’s real name. In an interview with Star Vancouver, Lahoo editor-in-chief Lao Mai said Feng is a real person writing under a pen name for protection.

But prior to Lao’s explanation, other staff at the publication said Feng was actually a floating pen name used by a number of people. In the interview Lao insisted that isn’t the case and underlined he and his staff don’t necessarily agree with the opinions written.

“We have that freedom of speech,” Lao said through an interpreter.

In Feng’s 2019 column about voting, it’s alleged Justin Trudeau ignored the case of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen, whose body was found in a park in Burnaby in July 2017. In September 2018, a Syrian refugee, Ibrahim Ali, was charged in her death.

In January 2018 an 11-year-old girl in Toronto told police she had been attacked by an Asian man with scissors who cut off her hijab. Justin Trudeau tweeted his condemnation of the attack. Police investigated the alleged incident and determined that the events did not happen. The family of the girl who made the false claims later apologized.

Feng’s column accuses Trudeau of caring more about the Muslim girl in Toronto than he did about the Shen murder because Muslims vote more than Chinese people.

Lao said the article is being misinterpreted and it’s really just meant to encourage Chinese people to vote. He said that when columns by Feng are submitted, they believe what he writes and don’t feel the need to fact check them.

Lahoo also publishes straight news pieces and Feng is just one columnist, but the internet is flooded with Chinese-language misinformation from a number of sources.

Back in May, Chauncey Jung, a contributor for website SupChina, who once interned for the Liberal Party and has written about the issue, said there has been a steady increase of false news or misinformation in Toronto since the story about the Muslim girl who claimed to be have been attacked broke in 2018.

Chinese articles on WeChat raged against the girl and against Trudeau for tweeting his response to the incident before police said they had determined that the attack did not happen. But the incident caused a spike in “pure hate speech” written in Chinese, Jung said.

The tension was made worse later in the year when Ali was arrested and charged with Shen’s murder. His court appearance in Vancouver brought anti-refugee protests by demonstrators carrying Chinese signs.

Jung said it’s not just Muslims who are targeted. He said he’s seen stories on WeChat alleging hundreds of Mexican drug dealers are flooding into Canada since Ottawa stopped requiring visas for Mexicans and others claiming that Toronto police want to get children hooked on drugs.

“It’s going to be challenging for people who don’t have the access to the actual information,” he said. “If you don’t speak English, that’s going to be a barrier, if you don’t like to read things in English, that’s another barrier there.”

Kevin Huang of Vancouver’s Hua Foundation, an organization aimed at bridging cultural gaps between Chinese and other communities, said not only is there an increasing amount of Chinese-language misinformation targeting immigrants and other minorities, but nothing is in place to counter it.

“People are usually just overwhelmed by the fact this exists and not at a stage where we’re about to design and or think about how to counter,” he says.

Much of it stems from a history of Chinese voters being “ruled by fear” Huang said, adding that politicians and the media often use scare tactics to dissuade Chinese voters from supporting their opponents rather than presenting a positive alternative.

The 2015 election was full of it, he said.

“The literature was fear mongering attacks on Trudeau, prostitution, needles,” Huang said. “Is our community in general really only about just being fearful of these things?”

Huang says one possible solution would be for governments to distribute information in more languages than just English and French. If more government materials were written in languages like Chinese, those who speak it as a first language would at least have access to basic, credible information, he said.

“No one’s engaging them except for ‘do your taxes and fill out these forms for your benefits,’ ” Huang said.

One man in Surrey, B.C., isn’t waiting for the government to pitch in.

“Fake news brings people to the wrong direction; prejudice and hate,” says Jacky Jiao after tidying up a picnic table in a Surrey park before sitting down to talk, condemning whoever left it a mess. “Few people think, they just follow others.”

When he’s not scrubbing picnic tables, the real estate agent and immigration consultant is cleaning up the internet. Jiao says he spends about 15 hours a week on WeChat motoring through Chinese language media and writing articles debunking false information.

WeChat has become the premier source of information for Chinese people around the world and Jiao says that often misinformation from other countries, like the United States and United Kingdom, is spun to fit the Canadian narrative.

Much of what appears on WeChat is published elsewhere and simply shared there, similar to Twitter. Often the articles contain false figures such as the number of refugees allowed into Canada each year, he says.

Jiao says his attempts to combat the misinformation or far-right rhetoric online have led to a lot of pushback.

“In WeChat groups, I get a lot of attacks,” he says. “A lot of people are Trump fans. They always think right is right. They can’t distinguish the right and the extreme right.”

Jiao says the courting of the far right via Chinese social media happens at a time when similar efforts are being made through churches in Canada. Chinese immigrants hold Christianity in high regard, he says, reasoning that many of the world’s developed countries have Christianity as a dominant religion.

As a result, many are curious about the religion and become involved in churches, and some of those churches have strong views against homosexuality or taxes, says Jiao.

Combined with the misinformation and right wing columns on WeChat, he said it makes some in the Chinese community ripe fruit for the far right to pluck.

But even if WeChat didn’t exist, the far-right politics are hosted by other websites and the messaging would still seep through.

In 2018, a consortium of Chinese activists in Vancouver and Toronto formed the Let’s Vote Association, a group with a website in Chinese and English encouraging people to vote for right-wing candidates in federal, provincial and municipal elections.

The organization was in the news when some municipal candidates decried the endorsements in B.C. last year. It hasn’t made any endorsements on its website this year.

One of its founding directors is Yali Trost, sister in law of Brad Trost, who ran unsuccessfully for leader of the Conservative Party in 2017 and lost a nomination challenge for the riding he held in Saskatchewan last year. He is not running this year and told Star Vancouver he has no knowledge of or participation in his sister in law’s activities. Most of the association’s directors have donated to Trost’s political campaigns in the past, according to Elections Canada information.

The association’s main page features a link to a petition opposing the Vancouver suburb of Richmond’s plan to install a rainbow crosswalk, an initiative undertaken by many cities to support the LGBTQ community. Other articles praise Donald Trump, champion religious freedom and question the legitimacy of refugees.

Their electoral recommendations in the past have included evangelical Christian radio show host and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, as well as Heather Leung, who was dropped as a candidate by the Conservatives earlier this month when a 2011 video of her making statements against the LGBTQ community resurfaced.

In the video, Leung says homosexuals are “perverted” and trying to “recruit” children because they cannot procreate.

In early September, according to her website, Leung went door knocking in her riding with Lindsay Shepherd, a controversial figure and free speech advocate criticized in the past for arranging an appearance by Faith Goldy, the white nationalist who ran for mayor of Toronto, at Laurier University.

Leung is still running as an independent and her campaign manager is Travis Trost, Yali Trost’s husband and Brad Trost’s brother.

Leung did not respond to Star Vancouver’s attempts to contact her, including a letter outlining what the interview would be about delivered to her home, outside of the Burnaby North-Seymour riding.

Star Vancouver requested the financial details of the Let’s Vote Association in accordance with the B.C. Societies Act.

As per the official process, Star Vancouver filed a request to the B.C. corporate registry asking that they compel the Let’s Vote Association to release the information. In a letter to Star Vancouver through the registry, the society said it would not release the information because it had not yet completed its accounting.

“Many immigrants to Canada and especially Chinese Canadians are reluctant to involve themselves in the political process in Canada because of bad experiences they have had overseas,” reads the letter, which goes on to accuse Star Vancouver of making them fearful.

But last October Yali Trost, a Vancouver resident according to Let’s Vote’s society information, involved herself in the political process physically when she got into an altercation with Burnaby School Board trustee candidate Larry Hayes after an all-candidates debate in a school gymnasium. According to Vancouver radio station News1130, Trost said she was confronting Hayes for calling another candidate an “idiot.”

A video posted to Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson’s Facebook page shows Hayes trying to push past Trost as she stands in front of him while holding a baby when he tries to leave the venue before she shoves him back. The police were called. The debate itself was shut down due to yelling from attendees protesting the province’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program in public schools.

Attempts to contact Yali Trost through the Let’s Vote Association were unsuccessful.

As Canada barrels toward its election Monday the affect the push by the far right could have on the Chinese community isn’t yet known, but observers are concerned what a sustained campaign could mean down the road.

Huang said politicians don’t make enough of an effort to conduct meaningful engagement with Canada’s Chinese communities. It seems politicians are only interested in stopping by for Lunar New Year banquets, he said, leaving a void that is filled by the far right.

The responsibility rests not just with Chinese people to speak up, Huang said, but with politicians who need to take the trend of misinformation seriously.

“Don’t treat our community as if we’re just being ruled by fear,” he said. “Lead us. Show us that we want to vote for you because you believe in the same values I do.”

Source: Extreme-right misinformation is flooding Chinese media in Canada and observers say there’s virtually nothing stopping it

This is the resistance to China’s influence in Canada, and this is their moment

Of note given the apparent extent of Chinese government efforts to influence Canadians and Canadian governments:

Standing at the counter of a coffee shop in Vancouver’s Commercial-Broadway Skytrain station, underneath a little Canadian flag, the leaders of the resistance bicker over who gets the honour of paying for their drinks.

Louis Huang ends the standoff by shoving $5 into Gao Bingchen’s pocket and walking to their seats. They have bigger conflicts to discuss.

Huang and Gao, both originally from Mainland China, are the founders of the 60-member Alliance Guard of Canadian Values. Since 2009, they’ve been trying to get Canadian governments to “be aware, really aware about the influence of the Chinese communist government in Canada,” Huang said.

Gao doesn’t speak much English, so Huang does the talking. Gao sits quietly next to him, checking his phone and waiting for brief translations of what is being said.

Huang says the Canadian political class just doesn’t get it. Instead of pushing for human rights in China, it cozies up to Beijing hoping to boost business. Rather than address the Communist Party of China’s attempts to infiltrate Canadian institutions, Canadian politicians ignore the problem.

More frustrating, he said, members of Parliament haven’t seemed interested in hearing what they have to say about it.

But this could finally be their moment.

Since December, international relations have remained in the headlines as Beijing threatens Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. She’s awaiting extradition proceedings to face fraud and other charges in the United States.

Observers say the aftermath, including the detention of two Canadians in China and new restrictions on Canadian canola exports, has opened Canadians’ eyes to the reality of dealing with a totalitarian regime. Huang and Gao hope the sudden high-profile spat will turn the pernicious problem into an election issue.

“We came from China because we don’t like the Communist Party. We want to live in a freedom-of-speech, freedom-of-human-rights country,” said Huang, a former medical doctor and researcher who now works as an education consultant.

Gao, a journalist, has a reputation for taking on powerful and connected people. He was found guilty of defamation for articles he wrote about Vancouver developer Miaofei Pan, alleging he wasn’t paying his taxes.

Pan is the former president of the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society and worked with the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations. In that capacity, he met with officials from the Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of China’s national legislature. Pan also once hosted a Liberal fundraiser at his home, with Justin Trudeau in attendance.

Nearly 300 supporters donated $70,000 to Gao for his legal defence. In the end, the judge awarded Pan only $1 in damages.

The Alliance Guard of Canadian Values also stages protests, including one in 2016 demanding former Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang resign after he participated in a ceremony raising China’s flag over Vancouver city hall.

“We think there’s a need to spread the values of Canada — human rights, freedom of speech — to spread these values in our Chinese community,” Huang said. “Why? Because we noticed the influence more than 10 years ago, the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Canada.”

Last year, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) issued a report warning China uses influence gained through commercial ventures to push the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda abroad. In 2010, then-CSIS director Richard Fadden suggested in a television interview that numerous public officials in Canada were under the influence of the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials and big business continue to advocate closer trade relations with the country. A 2017 story in The Globe and Mail cited parliamentary records that show MPs and senators have accepted dozens of trips to China, paid for by Chinese business groups and arms of the Chinese government.

On Monday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded Primer Minister Justin Trudeau pull Canada’s funds out of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Liberal Party of Canada and Conservative Party of Canada did not reveal whether they plan to introduce policies on Canada-China relations during this year’s election. The NDP told the Star it will craft policy.

Huang and Gao said Canada has wasted enough chances to bring in “proper” policy and say the issue can no longer be avoided.

Gao said he himself was a victim of China’s influence in Canada. He once had a substantial presence as a columnist in the local Chinese media but was fired from a newspaper a few year ago after a story critical of a Chinese official. He said his editor cited a complaint from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. He’s been dropped by a number of other media outlets and suspects similar pressure is to blame.

“We talk about the Chinese government using the Chinese community in Canada to make their goals, not only in business but also on a political level,” Huang said. “Which is more of a threat to our foundation of freedom.”

Australia’s foreign interference law, which makes it a crime to covertly take action to influence policy at the behest of a foreign power, is something Huang wants to see discussed in Canada. He also wants Canada to challenge China on trade the way the United States has, citing a large imbalance between the two nations.

It isn’t just Huang who predicts Canada-China relations will be an election issue.

Nik Nanos, chair of Nanos Research, said Canada’s political parties will need “issue specific” policies on trade, Huawei and 5G development with China during this year’s election.

“Canadians have had a clear indication of what China’s really like, based on how it’s lashed out on the canola file, based on the rhetoric that is put out there related to the detaining of the Huawei executive,” Nanos said. “It’s put more of a real face on how China operates and what they think of Canada.”

Canada-China Policies will be especially important in British Columbia, he said, which is more Pacific oriented both culturally and economically.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that Canadians understand the opportunity and importance of China but at the same time are worried, as a small power negotiating with a super power, any trade deal may not work out well for us,” Nanos said.

Huang warns the push for deepened relations with China — in order to appease some big Canadian business and hopefully win votes from the Chinese community — is misguided. The Chinese community in Canada is not a monolith, and such actions by Canadian politicians do Canada no favours.

“The government, they don’t fully understand,” Huang said. “They know less — just a little bit — about our society, our culture and our political views.”

But expecting Canadian politicians to learn and adjust may not bear fruit, said a leading scholar on China’s political interference in western countries, who just wrapped up a trip to Canada to examine the situation here.

Clive Hamilton is a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, who has been a harsh critic of attempts to influence his own country’s politics.

Hamilton told Star Vancouver his recent trip to Canada left him “quite worried about the capacity of Canada to extricate itself from the unwelcome and undemocratic influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”

He said it’s clear China has been “cultivating” friends in high places and penetrating Canadian institutions for some time. He’s worried agreements could be made by Canada’s biggest political parties to avoid the topic this year.

One party breaking away and making China relations an issue could force other parties to follow suit or risk public backlash, he said.

Hamilton added it’s important parties hammer home they are concerned about the Chinese Communist Party, not China or the Chinese people, who “ought to be welcome” in Canada.

After all, they’re facing the most pressure to support Beijing’s actions.

“Chinese Canadians are the biggest victims of the Communist Party’s influence operations in Canada. They’re the ones who have the most at stake,” he said. “They’re the ones whose families are penalized or whose businesses are shut down if they displease Beijing.”

Source: This is the resistance to China’s influence in Canada, and this is their moment