Update: This story has been updated to include comments from the Canada Revenue Agency and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s press secretary.
A group run by a notorious Canadian neo-Nazi was one of the recipients of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), a program meant to provide short-term financial support for companies that have seen a sharp decline in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VICE World News has learned.
The revelation has prompted anti-hate advocates to urge the federal government to reconsider which companies are eligible to receive federal funding.
The Canadian Association for Free Expression led by Paul Fromm, a self-identified white nationalist and long-time leader of Canada’s far-right movement, received an undisclosed amount through the program, according to an online database of CEWS recipients made public by the Canada Revenue Agency on Monday.
The database does not show how much funding each company received under the $54-billion program, nor when each company received the subsidy. More than 368,000 businesses, charities, and non-profit groups have received federal wage subsidies since it came into effect in April.
A spokesperson for the Canada Revenue Agency did not answer questions from VICE World News about the nature of Fromm’s group citing privacy reasons.
“Information will be continuously updated and will include the CEWS recipient’s legal business name and operating name,” the spokesperson said. “All other information remains protected under the privacy provisions of the Income Tax Act.”
Fromm confirmed to VICE World News that his group received the subsidy, but wouldn’t say how much.
“That’s frankly none of your business,” Fromm, who rejects the term neo-Nazi to describe himself, said in a phone call on Tuesday. As for why he applied for the subsidy, Fromm said it’s because of the rules that limit public gatherings. “Police state prohibition against meetings in most parts of the country severely impacted revenue,” he said.
“If you can’t hold a meeting, it’s hard to meet people who provide donations and buy books and so on.”
In 2019, the Hamilton Police announced a “full investigation” into Fromm for allegedly uploading the manifesto of the New Zealand mosque shooter to the Canadian Association for Free Expression website. Another Canadian neo-Nazi was also part of that investigation for allegedly posting and endorsing the manifesto. No charges were laid at the time.
Earlier this month, Fromm appeared at a protest in support of the owner of Toronto’s Adamson Barbecue who previously defied public health rules by allowing indoor dining.
Bernie Farber, the Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told VICE World News he was surprised to learn that the group received the subsidy.
“A lot of Canadians would rail against the fact that the federal government is providing funding to one of the most well-known, longest standing, neo-Nazis in the country,” Farber said in an interview. “Does that mean anybody from racist organizations can apply for this? And it’s something that maybe the federal government has to rethink.”
Farber likened this situation to how another federal agency, Elections Canada, granted the far-right Canadian Nationalist Party an official registered political party in 2019.
“We’re living in an age of unbridled hate,” Farber continued. “The last thing in the world we would want is for our federal tax dollars to be supporting that.”
After this story was published, Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary for Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, told VICE World News in an email that wage subsidies “can only be used for employee remuneration. Should these funds have been abused, the penalties can include repayment of the wage subsidy, an additional 25% penalty, and potentially imprisonment in cases of fraud.”
Without naming Fromm or his group, Cuplinskas also said “The government categorically condemns white supremacy, far-right extremism, and racism in all its forms.”
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