An Ontario cabinet minister told organizers of a Markham street festival to deny The Epoch Times a booth at their event in order to appease the Chinese consul general, a source involved in organizing the event says.
The source involved in the Taste of Asia Street Festival, who wished not to be identified, says event organizers made a verbal commitment to an unhappy Michael Chan, Ontario’s minister of tourism and culture, not to include The Epoch Times after an incident that embarrassed the Chinese consul general at the Taste of Asia event in 2008.
That event had in attendance a number of high-profile guests, including Chan and then-Chinese Consul General Zhu Taoying.
“The Chinese consul general arrived and saw the Epoch Times booth. She was very upset and turned away and left, making the scene very embarrassing, since we still had other honourable guests in the opening ceremony,” the source said.
“After that, Michael Chan was very unhappy. We then made a verbal commitment [to Chan] that we would not accept The Epoch Times in future events.”
The Epoch Times is an international news organization with a Chinese-language edition that is notably independent of the Chinese regime. The newspaper frequently reports on news censored in China, including human rights abuses such as those against the Falun Gong spiritual practice, and carries articles critical of the ruling communist party.
The Epoch Times was indeed denied participation when it attempted to apply to return this year to the Taste of Asia in June and another event put together in part by the same organizers this summer, the Richmond Hill Summer Carnival. The source explained that the denials were a result of a commitment that had been made to Chan.
Photos from the Taste of Asia in 2008 show that both Chan and Consul Zhu made a presence on stage.
That year, The Epoch Times had leased a booth under a contract with organizers but while the event was taking place the newspaper’s representatives were approached by several men identifying themselves among the organizers, saying they need to remove the Epoch Times booth.
The Epoch Times made audio recordings and took photographs of the incident.
When asked why they were removing the newspaper from the community event, one of the men said he would not provide a reason at that time and just wanted to close the booth down.
When reminded of the contract, the man said, “You don’t know what’s going on.”
When pressed further for reasons, he said it’s because staff at the Epoch Times booth were handing out newspapers. When Epoch Times staff pointed out that other booths were also handing out material, the man replied, “not this kind of newspaper.”
The Taste of Asia Street Festival in Markham is an annual event organized in major part by the Federation of Chinese Canadians in Markham.
This summer, The Epoch Times also applied for and was granted a booth at the Richmond Hill Summer Carnival. This event is partly organized by the Federation of Chinese Canadians of York Region, which includes the Federation of Chinese Canadians in Markham.
However, after granting approval, organizers later informed The Epoch Times that it would not be able to have a booth. They offered no official explanation.
Election Support an ‘Important Reason’
The Epoch Times takes part in and sponsors dozens of community events each year in the Toronto area without incident.
In explaining why The Epoch Times was denied a booth this year, the source involved in Taste of Asia said another “important reason” was the ensuing provincial election campaign, in which the federation would be supporting Chan.
The Taste of Asia Street Festival in Markham receives funding from both provincial and federal governments.
This year the festival received $75,000 in funding from Celebrate Ontario 2011, a fund administered by Chan’s department, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
When The Epoch Times contacted Mr. Chan’s campaign office on Wednesday, the reporter was connected to a representative who identified himself only as Mark and who declined to state his role in the campaign.
— MPP Michael Chan
The Epoch Times asked repeatedly whether Chan had instructed Taste of Asia organizers to exclude the newspaper, but Mark did not say.
“With regards to who is invited to Taste of Asia, only the organizers, which is the organizers of Taste of Asia, only they can determine who is invited to the festival,” Mark said. “So I have no further comments on this topic.”
The person who answered the phone Wednesday at the Federation of Chinese Canadians in Markham said the one able to speak on Taste of Asia was not in.
Too Close to Beijing?
Chinese dissident groups in Canada have long complained that Chan gives the cold shoulder to those whom the Chinese regime dislikes.
However, he has diligently built close ties with Beijing.
Chan, MPP for Markham-Unionville, was first elected to the Ontario legislature in 2007, and held cabinet positions as minister of revenue and minister of citizenship and immigration before his latest role as the minister of tourism and culture.
According to media interviews, he was born in Guangdong province, China, and moved to Hong Kong before coming to Canada in 1969 when he was 18.
A search on China’s Foreign Affairs website yielded 28 reports since 2010 that mention the provincial minister, including reports of Chan attending events organized by the Chinese consulate, such as Chinese flag-raising ceremonies, welcoming events for officials, and farewell celebrations for Chinese officials leaving Canada.
He’s also been interviewed numerous times in state-run Chinese press. In an interview with a reporter of Xinhua News Agency in Toronto in July 2008, just prior to his trip to attend the Beijing Olympics, he said he’d visited China over 70 times since the early 1980s.
He told the reporter, “strictly speaking, I’m Canadian, but I have been always paying attention to the root of my culture. I am much concerned with Chinese affairs.”
Chan has also frequently been invited as a guest to important political events in China, including the 60th anniversary marking communist rule in 2009, at which he watched celebrations in Tiananmen Square as a special guest of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In another interview with Xinhua from that event, Chan is quoted as saying: “”The motherland is great … the motherland is strong … our overseas Chinese hearts are with the motherland. We are proud of the motherland for its development.”
Chan has also met high-ranking officials with the United Front Work Department, an organization that aims to expand the influence of the CCP by infiltrating foreign countries.
He met Su Xiaoyun, head of United Front of Hubei province in 2008 during a trip in China, and met him again at an event organized by the Chinese consulate in Toronto in May this year. He also met with the Zang Aiming, head of Qingdao United Front, last year, according to media reports.
Exchange of Favours
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer and manager at Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, says the United Front Work Department falls under the Chinese intelligence services and that Chan “should know better” than to meet with the organization.
“United Front Work is one of the five organizations working for intelligence services in China and for China,” says Juneau-Katsuya.
“The danger is, if you are a minister and you talk to people at United Front Work, this is like talking to the devil.”
Juneau-Katsuya says Chinese intelligence services don’t work the same as Western intelligence agencies or even the former Soviet spy agency KGB.
The United Front Work won’t directly put someone on the payroll, he says. Instead, they look for those who will “willingly work with them, who they know they would get favours from.”
He says the relationship is often an exchange of favours. “‘Work with us, we will help your business, we will help your future,'” he says.
Last year, Richard Fadden, director of CSIS, warned that the agency was concerned that some provincial ministers and a number of other government officials and employees had gotten too close to foreign regimes.
“We’re in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication that there’s some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries,” Fadden said in an interview with CBC.
The problem with this, according to Fadden, is that it could influence government policy or the actions of politicians.
“The individual becomes in a position to make decisions that affect the country or the province or a municipality. All of a sudden, decisions aren’t taken on the basis of the public good but on the basis of another country’s preoccupations.”
At the time, Ontario’s premier Dalton McGuinty called on Fadden to provide details, while expressing confidence in his cabinet team.
Then-B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell had also criticized Fadden for his comments and said he has “confidence in my cabinet.”
Cheuk Kwan, chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, says in an e-mail that he has also heard concerns about a couple of provincial ministers being under the influence of foreign governments “whispered in the Chinese Canadian community.”
He says it’s nothing new that foreign governments may try to influence Canadian officials. What is “reprehensible,” he says, is “if these elected representatives abuse their power and interfere in Canadian affairs on behalf of a foreign government to the detriment of Canadian values such as human rights and freedom of speech.”
Additional reporting by Snow Ruan
An earlier version of this article mistakenly said the 2011 Taste of Asia took place in August.