Ottawa accused of denying entry to Chinese journalists ahead of June’s G7 summit

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The Canadian government prevented nine Chinese journalists working for Beijing’s state-run Xinhua News Agency from entering Canada to cover the June Group of Seven summit in Quebec, the media outlet says.

Canada denied requests by these journalists for the visas necessary to travel to the province and cover the G7, Xinhua says.

The nine Xinhua employees, including editors and reporters, are based in the agency’s New York and Washington bureaus and had been dispatched by Beijing headquarters to assist Xinhua’s single Ottawa-based correspondent in covering the meeting.

The G7 meeting brought together leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest industrialized countries, including U.S. President Donald Trump.

The issue, which was raised by the Chinese government in recent weeks, comes at a time when security concerns remain high in the Canada-China relationship. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seeking closer ties to Beijing, but in May blocked a takeover of major Canadian construction firm Aecon by a Chinese state-owned company on grounds of national security. It also comes after Ottawa’s concern over the potential national-security threat posed by Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

On the visa controversy, the Canadian government said Ottawa approves most requests from Chinese nationals seeking temporary resident visas, noting that since 2015, the approval rate has averaged 88.5 per cent.

Jessica Séguin, a spokeswoman for the department of Global Affairs, said approximately 600 foreign journalists made it to Canada to pick up their G7 media accreditation badges. She said this included seven Chinese journalists, although it’s not clear which news agency these journalists were attached to.

Ottawa could not say how many foreign journalists were rejected when they applied for permission to enter Canada to cover the G7 meeting because Ottawa does not track temporary resident visas by profession.

Xinhua said the nine visa applications were denied entry even though the correspondents had told Ottawa they only intended to work in Canada for about a week and that all their expenses would be paid by their employer. According to Xinhua’s Ottawa bureau chief, Li Baodong, when rejecting the visas, the Canadian government cited a concern that the applicants might remain in Canada past the expiry date of the visa. He said Ottawa also mentioned concerns, at least in some cases, about the applicants’ “financial status.”

Asked about the treatment of these nine Xinhua employees, the Canadian government defended its screening and approval process, saying foreign media seeking to enter Canada are treated the same as any foreigner applying for a visa.

“Journalists covering the G7 who required a visa were assessed in the same manner as all applicants who apply for a temporary resident visa to enter Canada,” said Shannon Ker, a spokeswoman for the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. “They were not given any special privileges or immunities.”

She said all foreign applicants seeking to enter Canada are provided the same opportunity to prove they are a “genuine temporary resident” and that “unless the [visa]officer is satisfied that the applicant is a genuine visitor, a temporary resident visa cannot be issued.”

The Chinese government, however, said that in its opinion, journalists from China face undue difficulty trying to report from Canada.

“In recent years, Chinese journalists’ work experience in Canada has not been smooth,” Chinese embassy spokesman Yang Yundong said.

The embassy spokesman noted that China has for many years granted Canadian journalists entry to China, and similarly expects Chinese journalists to be allowed to report from Canada, in order to enhance “mutual understanding and friendship” and promote better relations.

“China has long provided various conveniences and services to Canadian resident correspondents in Beijing,” Mr. Yang said. “We hope that the Canadian side will go hand in hand with the Chinese side and facilitate the reporting of the journalists in each other’s countries.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China released a report earlier this year, however, that said Beijing has made it harder for foreign journalists in China. The report said Beijing has “intensified its attempts to deny or restrict the access of foreign journalists to large parts of the country while increasing the use of the visa renewal process to pressure correspondents and news organizations whose coverage it does not like.”

China’s embassy said Chinese journalists have faced numerous problems trying to work in Canada, including enduring lengthy waits for visas that take months or even close to a year to obtain.

“Some [Chinese] journalists were groundlessly accused of being engaged in espionage, and their reporting job was restricted. Some journalists applied for their visas to Canada and repeatedly encountered obstacles,” Mr. Yang said.

The embassy did not elaborate but back in 2011, Xinhua reporter Shi Rong, based in Toronto, was recalled to Beijing after it emerged that a Conservative MP had sent flirtatious e-mails to her. Former Chinese spy Li Fengzhi, who defected to the United States, later publicly speculated that Ms. Shi may have had ties to China’s intelligence agencies.

In 2014, the Harper government barred some Chinese media outlets from participating in the Conservative prime minister’s Arctic tour.

Ms. Ker said all visa applicants must meet standards of proof for a number of factors. Among them: they do not pose a threat to Canada’s security; they do not have a criminal record; and will leave the country when their visa expires.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said Canada might have legitimate reasons for blocking these nine Xinhua journalists from attending the G7 meeting. It’s possible, he said, that Canada believes the journalists were here for other information-gathering purposes.

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