Foreign Dictatorships Shouldn’t Have Broadcasting Licences in Canada, Says Poilievre

Foreign Dictatorships Shouldn’t Have Broadcasting Licences in Canada, Says Poilievre
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks at a news conference in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Mar. 12, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Noé Chartier

Canada’s policy toward autocratic foreign countries who broadcast propaganda should be consistent and apply to organs of the Chinese state, Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre says.

“We need a consistent policy for all dictatorships. We shouldn’t allow one rule for Russia and another completely for China,” Poilievre said in French on April 5 while visiting Thetford Mines, Quebec.

“We shouldn’t give licences to organs of foreign dictatorships in Canada.”

Poilievre was asked by a reporter about recent calls from sectors of the Chinese diaspora to ban media entities controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Conservative leader said he wasn’t familiar with the specific Chinese entity mentioned by the reporter, China Central Television (CCTV), but that he would study the issue.

Canada took steps last year to ban media linked to the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to Chinese democracy advocates to request a similar approach be taken against the CCP.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) banned Russian state media RT ((formerly Russia Today) in March 2022 after receiving a referral from the Liberal government.

In the context of allegations of CCP meddling in the electoral process, House of Commons committees in recent days have heard pleas for the federal government to take action against Chinese propaganda being broadcast in Canada.

“To allow CGTN to continue operating on public, state-owned Canadian airwaves is to allow Beijing’s propaganda to misinform, propagandize, and have direct influence on Chinese-speaking Canadians,” said Katherine Leung, policy adviser for NGO Hong Kong Watch.

Leung was testifying before the foreign affairs committee on March 30 in relation to Bill C-281, which has a provision to prohibit licensing to entities involved in human rights violations. The private member’s bill currently being studied in committee is sponsored by Conservative MP Philip Lawrence.

The House ethics committee heard from other stakeholders on March 31 on the issue of CCP propaganda in the context of its study of foreign interference.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, who believes he lost his seat in the 2021 elections due to a disinformation campaign, said that the propaganda is being spread through all available channels.

“It’s not just WeChat, it’s not just social media, it’s multi-dimensional. It’s on the airwaves that the CRTC is supposed to be regulating, it’s on printed media, it’s also on websites,” he said.

“These multi-dimensional disinformation campaigns help to solidify the mistrust on certain particular politicians or political party and it’s very effective, especially during election time.”

Victor Ho, the retired editor-in-chief of Chinese language media Sing Tao Daily in B.C., told the committee this problem goes unnoticed because of the language barrier.

“Is this something that is the sort of thing that hides in plain sight?” asked Liberal MP Greg Fergus.

“Oh yeah, this is an ethnic language problem. So the mainstream society, they have no idea on what happened in our Chinese community,” Ho said.

The Liberal government has taken the stance that it cannot interfere in the granting of broadcasting licences, as it is the purview of the independent CRTC.

But critics argue that a precedent has been set by the government’s request that RT be banned from Canadian airwaves after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong raised the issue with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in a meeting of the Canada-China relations committee on Feb. 6.

“The government issued order 2022-0183 a year ago, asking the CRTC to review Russia Today’s broadcasting licence, which led to the revocation of that licence several weeks later,” Chong said.

“However, CGTN, China’s authoritarian, state-controlled broadcaster, is still operating here, spreading disinformation and propaganda and violating international human rights laws.”

Mendicino replied that the CRTC is an independent body which “makes decisions that are based on the merits and the law.”

“As a government, we endeavour to respect the independence of those bodies, rather than to politicize those decisions,” he said.