Skip to main content

Helen Wang, left, says she was fired after publishing an article by Jonathan Fon, right, critical of MPP Michael Chan.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The editor-in-chief of a Chinese-language newspaper says she was forced out of her job for publishing a column that criticized the conduct of Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan.

In a statement released to The Globe and Mail, the former editor of the Chinese Canadian Post, Helen Wang, said she was ousted after the Toronto-based periodical received complaints from the Chinese consulate in Toronto and pro-Beijing groups that back the minister.

In June, The Globe identified Mr. Chan as the subject of a 2010 CSIS briefing to Queen's Park that alleged an unusual closeness to China's Toronto consulate. The spy agency never investigated the minister, nor was he ever suspected of a crime.

Written by freelancer Jonathan Fon, the June 26 commentary chastised Mr. Chan, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade, for implying that the spy agency's concerns about him cast suspicion over all minorities. Mr. Fon argued that the concerns were solely about Mr. Chan.

Ms. Wang said that after Mr. Fon's article ran, her boss, Joe Zhang, told her the paper received complaints, including from the consulate and the paper's proprietor, Cheng Yi Wei, who also is president of the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO).

The confederation is known in the community for its close ties to the consulate and the provincial and federal Liberals. Ms. Wang was dismissed on July 17.

Mr. Fon's column – and its alleged consequences – underscore a wider debate in his community: whether the Chan affair questions the loyalty of all Chinese-Canadians or one politician's behaviour.

Initially, CSIS director Richard Fadden publicly aired concerns in June, 2010, that two provincial Crown ministers were under the influence of foreign governments. He did not mention names or provinces. Around the end of that summer, a senior official from CSIS paid a rare visit to the province's secretary of cabinet to express concern about Mr. Chan's rapport with the consulate. In October of that same year, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, through a spokeswoman, told the Toronto Star that CSIS provided nothing of substance that would suggest any minister was under such influence.

The Globe also reported last month that Mr. Chan lobbied for a deal between the Toronto District School Board and the Confucius Institute, a controversial Mandarin language and culture program run by the Chinese government. He also hired two aides with troubling résumés: one with a background of organizing protests and counterprotests that advance the Chinese agenda, and one who was implicated in removing anti-Beijing sentiment from a Chinese-language daily newspaper – and now works as a press secretary in the office of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Mr. Chan called The Globe articles a "deeply offensive personal attack" and is suing the paper. Ms. Wynne has publicly supported Mr. Chan. She told The Canadian Press in June that she asked her staff to revisit the CSIS concerns and said there was "still nothing of substance," but did not specify how the allegations were vetted.

While his many allies accuse CSIS and The Globe of singling him out as a result of his Chinese background, Mr. Chan views the revelations as an attack on the loyalty of all newer Canadians. Others in his community, however, see the controversy through a much more narrow lens. "About 80 per cent of the people who come on to my program disagree with Michael Chan," said Tony Yu, a guest host of Fairchild Radio's Mandarin Talk Show. "They see him playing the race card, and it's not good for the community. He made the Chinese main street angry. He should have just made a statement that CSIS was wrong, not put the whole community behind his back. He's doing something just for him."

At the centre of this latest controversy is the Chinese Canadian Post, a small newspaper with a dubious journalistic legacy. "It used to be called the Red Army Post," said Thomas Saras, president of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, adding that the bulk of the periodical was printed on the mainland, adding a page or two of Canadian content. "It was Chinese propaganda."

In the past three years, Mr. Saras said, the paper fell on hard times. Mr. Wei, a supermarket-chain owner and CTCCO president, recently took it over. (Mr. Wei could not be reached for comment.)

While its critics say that the CTCCO is too close to the consulate, honorary chair Ping Tan told The Globe in an unrelated interview last April that it is independent of the Chinese consulate and does not receive money from it."When there are issues that concern Chinese Canadians, we speak up," Mr. Tan said, adding that his group promotes Chinese languages and culture while encouraging new arrivals to embrace their new country.

On June 30, the confederation held a press conference to support Mr. Chan and demand an apology from The Globe. "We finally concluded that this is not only Chan's problem, rather, it is a big issue that involves all of our Chinese people, Chinese Canadians, and our Chinese communities," Mr. Wei said at the event, while reinforcing his group's relationship with China.

Ms. Wang recalled in her statement that on the day of the press conference, her boss instructed her to minimize the damage at all costs by running as many pro-Chan articles as she could muster. She said Mr. Zhang told her the paper had paid delivery workers extra money to retrieve the June 26 papers from the marketplace. Pushing back, she said she insisted that it was important to offer another side of the story.

From then on, Ms. Wang said, she felt marginalized in the workplace. She later discovered, on July 17, that she was locked out of the newspaper's e-mail system and was called into her boss's office, where she received a dismissal notice.

When asked why he fired his editor, Mr. Zhang refused to elaborate. "That's a company decision," he said. "I don't think I need to talk to anyone about it."

Clarification: Since the publication of the original newspaper version and an earlier digital version of this story, Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan has denied he complained about coverage or the editorship of the Chinese Canadian Post. The online version has been changed.

Interact with The Globe