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Chinese TV Star Accuses Canadian Tourism Officials of Trying to Censor Show About First Nations

Justin Trudeau's trip to China is off to a rocky start already.
August 29, 2016, 6:25pm

Photo via Justin Trudeau/Facebook

As Justin Trudeau heads to China for what he hopes will be a reboot of Canadian-Chinese relations, accusations of censorship in both countries are putting a dark cloud over the visit.

Over the weekend, a Chinese television star accused Canadian tourism officials of quashing an episode of his online show Xiaosong Qi Tan that featured an interview with a First Nations chief and touched on Indigenous rights. Gao Xiaosong took to Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, to express his anger, telling his 38 million followers that Destination Canada employees had threatened to use "legal, diplomatic and political means" to stop the show, which was set to air last Friday. (It never did.) He also posted emails he says are between him and Destination Canada, although their authenticity hasn't been verified. Destination Canada—a crown corporation formerly known as the Canadian Tourism Commission—had a four-episode partnership with the program. Xiaosong, who is also a well-known music producer and songwriter in China, says that Destination Canada demanded the "removal of all content about First Nations human rights." He added that the whole situation was "too bizarre" and vowed to make the episode public regardless, but didn't say how or when. "We insist on playing this episode's content, primarily because we were deeply touched by the words from the tribal leader," Xiaosong wrote. It's unclear which chief was interviewed. Xiaosong did not immediately reply to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Destination Canada wouldn't respond to questions from VICE News on Monday, but said in an emailed statement that "Destination Canada can suggest changes to the videos that are produced, and these suggestions were accepted by the production company." The group's managing director for China told the Globe and Mail earlier that after watching several episodes, they made some suggestions for "some changes we'd like to see made" and that the partnership was "trying to promote tourism in Canada, so we want all of the programs to be a bit tourism focused." Other episodes of the show that focused on Canada include Xiaosong speaking with Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson about the film industry there, and visiting Niagara Falls. Mark Rowswell, a Canadian performer known in China as "Dashan," has been tweeting about the incident, which he says looks more like a business dispute than anything malicious.

"CDN censorship" incident more like business dispute between production partners, CDN tourism office a bit zealous, shot themselves in foot
— 大山 Dashan (@akaDashan) August 28, 2016

The timing of Xiaosong's accusations is notable, just before Trudeau is set to take meetings with his counterpart in China on Tuesday. Trudeau is under pressure to call the Chinese government out on its record of human rights abuses, specifically government-sponsored torture and illegal detention. Canada's foreign minister, Stephane Dion, has said that pursuing a closer economic relationship with China would allow Canada to promote respect for freedom and human rights there. Tensions on the matter boiled over in June when China's foreign minister was visiting Ottawa and lashed out at an iPolitics reporter who asked Dion about China's human rights record. The Chinese minister interjected and said the question was "full of prejudice against China and arrogance." "I don't know where that comes from," he continued. "This is totally unacceptable." Recently, China's reach into Canadian politics and media have made headlines. Last year, the Globe and Mail found that Canada's domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was concerned that Michael Chan, a Chinese-Canadian who serves as Ontario's minister of immigration and international trade, had gotten too cozy with China's consulate in Toronto. Chan is now suing the Globe for defamation. The New York Times recently examined how many Chinese-Canadian activists and reporters are concerned that China's growing economic influence in Canada has threatened their freedom to openly criticize the authoritarian regime. One editor of a Chinese-language newspaper said she had been fired for publishing a piece that received complaints from the Chinese consulate in Toronto. And another publisher of a Chinese newspaper said the consul general asked his publication to stop including advertisements from Falun Gong, a religious sect banned in China that accuses the government of murdering and torturing its adherents. Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter.