TORONTO—In August of last year, Montreal newspaper publisher Crescent Chau somehow drummed up the funds to print 100,000 copies of a special 32-page tabloid—without a single advertisement—and distributed it nationwide, for free.
The newspaper was not only missing ads; it was also devoid of typical news. All 32 pages were packed with articles condemning the Falun Gong spiritual group, which is persecuted by the communist regime in Mainland China.
It was quite an achievement for Chau, whose own Chinese-language newspaper, Les Presses Chinoises, has a circulation of only 6000 and is limited in its distribution to Montreal. About 100 copies are circulated in Ottawa.
But it did not surprise Chen Yonglin, a former diplomat at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, Australia who recently visited Canada and warned that Chinese spies and front organizations are widespread here, including those targeting groups persecuted by the regime in China.
"It is clear that the Les Presses Chinoises is cooperating with the Chinese embassy and consulate and has become the hatchetman and propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party here," Chen says.
"It is very likely that the printing costs were directly funded by the Chinese embassy and consulate—the contents seem to be mostly produced and provided by the CCP."
Chen supports his claims with a document from the Chinese consulate in Sydney.
Titled the "Special Anti-Falun Gong Working Group Division of Labour Table" and dated February 7, 2001, it lists the responsibilities for members of the anti-Falun Gong team, which included the heads of all sections at the consulate.
For example, the head of the political affairs department was responsible for "recommending" anti-Falun Gong articles from state-run media in China for use in Chinese-language media overseas and writing anti-Falun Gong articles for publishing in Chinese-language media.
The head of the culture department was charged with sending such articles to politicians and media.
Chau denies he is taking orders from the Chinese authorities. He portrays his opposition to Falun Gong as a personal "crusade."
While Chau says he aspires to eliminate Falun Gong in Canada, he admits not having interviewed Falun Gong practitioners for the stories he published, nor having read Falun Gong's teachings.
He rejects that he has been paid to publish his anti-Falun Gong newspapers.
But according to other Chinese-language media in Montreal, the source of Chau's first anti-Falun Gong articles, a woman named He Bing, had offered to pay "whatever it takes" to have her anti-Falun Gong articles published in Chinese-language press. Reliable sources told The Epoch Times that CSIS had investigated He and believed her to be a Chinese agent.
Several other Chinese papers reportedly turned her down before her articles appeared in Chau's Les Presses Chinoises.
In her articles, which appeared first as paid ads, He Bing accused Falun Gong adherents of everything from sucking blood and bestiality to murder and suicide. She called Falun Gong practitioners "insane," "stupid," and "scatter-brained."
University of Montreal professor David Ownby, an expert in popular Chinese religions who has studied Falun Gong, called the statements "unsubstantiated filth poured upon the page" and said he'd seen nothing to suggest any truth behind He's accusations.
But Chau continued to publish such content even after two Quebec court orders told him stop, even calling practitioners "enemies of the state."
In Feb. 2001, Chau published his first anti-Falun Gong special edition, which included a petition rallying the Chinese community to "unite" in "denouncing Falun Gong."
He Bing returned to China and was paraded in Chinese state media as a hero in the war on Falun Gong.
Chau, too, became a celebrity of sorts in the Mainland Chinese press. He attended conferences in China that promoted "information exchange and business cooperation" between overseas and mainland Chinese media. State media quoted Chau as saying the Chinese regime "should strengthen its connection to the overseas Chinese community."
And Chau's anti-Falun Gong efforts were reported in national media in China, which referred to Les Presses Chinoises not as a local Montreal newspaper but as "Canada's Les Presses Chinoises. "
The coverage of Chau was so overwhelming that some Mainland Chinese thought the Canadian government had also banned Falun Gong.
"My parents in China were worried for me," said Yang Hui, one of the Montreal-area Falun Gong practitioners who were named in Chau's articles. "They saw all the reports and thought that Canada had started to persecute Falun Gong too."
In August 2006, Chau published his first nationwide anti-Falun Gong paper, with copies circulated as far west as Vancouver.
His efforts did not go unnoticed. Within four days of the "special edition" hitting the streets, the website for the Mainland China-based People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published a report praising Chau.
"The Justice Special Edition [the paper also bore the English name Truth Magazine ] has 32 pages with a distribution of more than 100,000 copies," the People's Daily said. "The front page carries publisher Crescent Chau's special article … It is very sharp, rich in content, and powerful."
In it Chau parroted the Chinese regime's official line on Falun Gong, accusing the group of everything from shunning medical treatment to murder and suicide.
Such claims are groundless, say human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, but they have been used to justify the regime's violent repression of the group, which began in 1999.
Chau used these claims to rally opposition to Falun Gong in Canada.
"Everyone should join in the efforts to fight against Falun Gong," wrote Chau. "We must unite together to condemn [Falun Gong founder] Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong."
Last week, the fourth installment of Chau's Truth Magazine hit the streets in Toronto. As with the previous three, it comes on the heels of some particularly bad press for the Chinese regime.
One previous edition was published after former secretary of state for Asia Pacific, David Kilgour, and lawyer David Matas released a report concluding that the Chinese communist regime was stealing organs from live Falun Gong practitioners detained in China for sale in a lucrative organ trade.
Another came as a Chinese-language television station, New Tang Dynasty Television, put on a prominent Chinese New Year show that included one act depicting the persecution of Falun Gong in China. That one was also delivered to Canadian members of parliament.
This time, the special edition followed the visit of the former diplomat Chen who described the Chinese front organizations in Canada, citing in particular the Nation Congress of Chinese Canadians (NCCC).
The latest edition is 16 pages and makes no mention of Falun Gong on the cover. In its place is a large headline: "Will your Maple Card (Canadian residency card) expire?" But inside, the remaining 15 pages are devoted to attacking Falun Gong.
This issue repeats many of the same slurs against Falun Gong. It also takes aim at Chen and at The Epoch Times, which reported Chen's comments, and defends prominent NCCC leaders that were named in the Epoch Times report.
Chau calls on Chinese-Canadians to "unite to conquer" what he calls the "evil" Falun Gong and Chen Yonglin.
Curiously, though Chau's publishing company resides in Montreal, the latest ,I>Truth Magazine appears to have been distributed only in Toronto, where the three NCCC leaders named in the Epoch Times report—David Lim, Hughes Eng, and Ping Tan—reside.
And from there, the links become more curious.
Since the August 2006 issue of Truth Magazine hit the streets, police in several Canadian cities have been looking into whether the papers qualify as hate propaganda.
On Saturday afternoon, Toronto police confronted a Truth Magazine deliveryman at a Chinese grocery store in the northeast of the city. He gave his name as Lu Ping.
The police asked Lu who had hired him to deliver the newspapers. Lu reluctantly provided the name and phone number of Ms. Li Miao of Canyon Web Printing.
Canyon Web Printing happens to have the same address and phone number as those listed on yellowpages.ca for the Chinese Canadian Post, which is owned by NCCC Executive Secretary David Lim.
Ms. Li, for her part, is listed as the contact for an upcoming event organized by NCCC National Co-Chair Hughes Eng and supported by the Chinese embassy's culture section.
But aside from some investigation by police, little has been done to stop the disparaging reports.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found in a separate case that Falun Gong "is a protected creed" as its essence is spiritual elevation. But to date, police have not used such grounds to lay charges.
A Montreal police sergeant who spoke with The Epoch Times last year cited sensitivities in investigating Mr. Chau because of his prominence in the Chinese community.
A trial court in Montreal said that Mr. Chau was exercising his freedom of speech in publishing the slurs, a decision that is now being appealed.
But all this has made members of Canada's Falun Gong community feel they are not being protected.
"I believe if such slanders were directed at another group in our society, it would not be tolerated," says Ottawa Falun Gong practitioner Lucy Zhou. "It seems like because this has to do with China, people can get away with saying anything about us and it's OK.
"Crescent Chau has incited hate against us for five years with impunity. I feel the system is failing us."