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Canada Columnist’s firing at B.C.-based Chinese paper stirs press-freedom concerns

The decision came after Gao Bingchen criticized Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who dressed down a Canadian journalist after she asked Stéphane Dion about China’s human-rights record, and mocked Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan’s controversial response to the incident.

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For more than a decade, the acerbic Gao Bingchen wrote a column for the Global Chinese Press, a Burnaby, B.C.-based, Chinese-language newspaper that is distributed, among other places, to the Chinese consulate in Vancouver.

But last Tuesday, Global's deputy editor told him that while the publication had long faced down pressure over his writing, this time, it was too great. The paper had to put an end to his column, Mr. Gao said. The editor then asked Mr. Gao, who writes under the pen name Huang Hebian, whether he might consider writing under another byline. He asked why. "'Some people don't want to see your name in the newspaper,'" he said he was told.

The decision came after Mr. Gao applied his sharp claws to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who dressed down a Canadian journalist in Ottawa earlier this month after she asked Mr. Wang's Canadian counterpart, Stéphane Dion, about China's human-rights record. A week later, Mr. Gao mocked Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan's controversial response to the incident, in which the MPP argued that human rights, when seen through the lens of economic livelihood, have improved over 40 years. Even though Mr. Gao published both pieces on his own social media account, the distinction hardly mattered.

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At a Toronto press conference on Monday, Chinese-Canadian community activists held up Mr. Gao's case as an example of diminishing freedom of the press. One panelist warned that without intervention of Canada's various governments, "Canadian values will be swallowed up step by step.

"If it happens in this community, it can happen to other communities, too," Jonathan Fon, a columnist, said.

Mr. Fon came on behalf of Toronto-area journalist Xin Feng, who earlier this month wrote a critique of Mr. Wang's behaviour on 51.ca – one of Canada's most popular Chinese-language websites – and later received two death threats.

Mr. Xin's June 4 column took a dim view of Beijing's official accounting for human rights improvements. "In the eyes of Foreign Minister Wang and many other Chinese government officials, the most important human right in China is the right to eat … If the purpose of human life is understood as nothing more than the right to eat, then people would be no different to pigs."

While many responses were supportive, two were deeply unnerving.

"Be careful that your whole family doesn't get killed, be careful when you walk outside!" read one post under the column. "Butcher this pig. He's an animal, not a human," read another.

Mr. Xin, a pen name, did not appear at Monday's event, telling Mr. Fon that showing his face would endanger his family.

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"Some readers are angry because they think the Chinese minister is still their minister," Mr. Xin told The Globe and Mail in an earlier interview. While some members of the Chinese community argued that such threats are more commonplace on Chinese-language message boards, Mr. Xin said it was important to demonstrate that they shouldn't be tolerated in Canada, which was why he filed a complaint with the Toronto Police Service. One person who threatened him has since apologized.

Regardless, Mr. Gao faulted Canadian politicians for "ignoring the fact that Chinese immigrants have come from a Communist country" with very different values and allowed them to take root inside its borders. He said he came to Canada seeking escape from an oppressive system, but he found a system that had spread its influence to his new home.

Si Xiaohong, one of the owners of Global Chinese Press, declined specific comment about Mr. Gao's situation. "It's just an internal adjustment."

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