Two Canada Post workers in Regina were temporarily suspended earlier this month after they refused to deliver the latest sample edition of the Epoch Times.
The head of the local CUPW union that represents postal workers said both mail carriers were escorted from the building when they informed their supervisors they were unwilling to deliver the publication. They were suspended without pay for three days.
According to its sample issue, the Epoch Times was created to “bring honest and uncensored news to people oppressed by deception and tyranny in communist China.”
The paper sells subscriptions in dozens of countries and makes some content available free on its website, which, according to the paper, gets about 5.7 million readers per month in Canada. It occasionally mails out free, unsolicited sample editions through Canada Post as advertising mail.
The paper was founded in the U.S. in 2000 by Chinese-American followers of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, who have been persecuted by the Chinese government. In the past, it has broken stories about human rights abuses in China.
Epoch Times content runs the gamut from articles about health and wellness to science, politics and technology. But its main focus has been news and current affairs stories that are critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In recent years, it has expanded its coverage of U.S. politics and gained traction among some supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump by covering topics such as Spygate, the QAnon conspiracy theory and unfounded allegations of election fraud.
On its site, the paper describes itself as non-partisan and “independent of any influence from corporations, governments or political parties.”
In its sample issue, the Epoch Times says it has a “reputation for independent, fact-based traditional journalism” and its goal is “to serve the public benefit and be truly responsible to society.”
‘I’m not for censorship’
Ramiro Sepulveda, one of the suspended postal workers, told CBC News he objects to the insinuations in some of the paper’s past coverage of the origins of the coronavirus, which the paper calls “the CCP virus.”
“I’m not for censorship. I’m not against freedom of speech,” he said. “What my thing is, is there is no disclaimer stating that this was theory.”
He says he went straight to his supervisor when he saw the free editions that were set to be delivered earlier this month.
“I said, ‘That Epoch Times, I’m not delivering it. It goes against everything I believe in.'”
The second worker, Linying Su, who was born in China, said she felt uncomfortable delivering the paper because she feared its coverage of the Chinese government could contribute to anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment in Canada and misconceptions around the origins of the coronavirus.
“This is not just about Chinese Candians; it’s about all Asian Canadians,” she told CBC News in a conversation through Facebook. “The unjustified discrimination against Chinese Canadians would turn to discrimination against all Asian Canadians….
“I may not be able to stop other people from delivering these papers, but I can stop myself from doing things that betray my own belief.”
Readers can judge for themselves, says publisher
In an email to CBC News that was also posted on the paper’s website, the publisher of the Canadian edition of the Epoch Times, Cindy Gu, said sending out free copies is a “common practice in the news industry to grow business.”
“Canada is a country that believes in freedom of the press, and we believe readers are wise enough to judge for themselves whether we are reporting truthfully,” Gu said. “This is a free country. Readers deserve the chance to know different styles and types of reporting.”
Gu said the majority of feedback to the recent edition has been positive.
“If people do not wish to read our sample newspaper, then treat it like other promotional material,” she said.
“If the delivery of mail is up to the individual carrier to decide based on his/her impression of ‘hatred,’ no one can trust the post office any more. If Canada Post were to block us, that would be the government censoring an independent media outlet. This would violate the Charter of Rights, which guarantees freedom of the press.”
Gu said the fears that some of the paper’s content could be misconstrued as anti-Asian are unjustified.
“We are a media started by Asian immigrants. There is no way we would publish content that is anti-Asian,” she said.
“In reporting the facts, we may contradict some commonly accepted narratives, including about China. Reading us can be a liberating experience.”
Other postal workers have objected to delivery
The Regina workers aren’t the first postal workers to complain about the publication. In April 2020, some mail carriers in the Greater Toronto Area objected to having to deliver it, and their union local filed a request with the federal government asking for an interim order to stop delivery of the newspaper. That request was denied.
The national branch of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers says it is currently in discussions with Canada Post about this matter.
Canada Post said letter carriers are obligated to deliver any mail that is “properly prepared and paid for.”
The union agrees, but William Johnson, president of the CUPW local in Regina, said there needs to be a better solution than suspension for workers who are uncomfortable delivering the publication.
“What I don’t want to see is this happening. If this is going to be a publication that comes out every month — that we go through this process every month. That’s not good for morale,” Johnson said. “It’s a really stressful time for the employees. And so I think there has to be some sort of alternative as to how we deal with this situation.”
Canada Post said in an emailed statement to CBC News that it understands “this is a difficult situation.”
“The courts have told Canada Post that its role is not to act as the censor of mail or to determine the extent of freedom of expression in Canada,” it said. “This is an important distinction between Canada Post and private sector delivery companies.”
Doesn’t fit criteria of non-mailable matter
To refuse delivery, material would have to meet Canada Post’s definition of “non-mailable matter,” which includes items that are prohibited by law, such as illegal, obscene and fraudulent items.
Those who want to opt out of receiving the Epoch Times sample editions must opt out of all ad mail, including grocery and community-based flyers and other promotional material.
A spokesperson for Anita Anand, the minister in charge of Canada Post, said the minister “is actively reviewing the rules relating to the circulation of the Epoch Times.”
One Ontario resident who wrote to her local MP to complain about the free edition after it turned up in her mailbox in Mississauga earlier this month said she supports such a review.
“I think it’s important for politicians to really take a look at this and just say, ‘Is this what we want a Crown corporation to be delivering?” said Pauline Dantas.
Dantas was told by the outreach co-ordinator for Gagan Sikand, the Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville, that the content of Epoch Times does not meet the criteria of non-mailable matter.
“Anyone concerned with the contents of the Epoch Times can contact the publisher directly, file a complaint through the appropriate institutions or place the item in the recycling box,” Sarah Hleyhel wrote in an email to Dantas.
‘A pretty decent view on what’s going on’
Tony Phillips, a retiree in Debert, N.S., skimmed the special edition when it arrived in his mailbox.
He thinks calls to ban delivery of the paper through Canada Post are “nanny state-ish.”
Phillips said while he doesn’t agree with all the views expressed in the paper, he’s interested in hearing them.
“I’m kind of interested in seeing what people think,” Phillips said. “I just find it, kind of, part of the human zoo, and I just, kind of, enjoy it.”
“I just like to get an idea of the social landscape in a sense … I think there’s a danger that you can just listen to yourself or people who think the same way as you do.”
He said he wasn’t bothered by getting an unsolicited copy of the paper any more than he would be to get a community flyer or pamphlet that might turn up at one’s door.
“It didn’t loom large, really. It was just interesting, an interesting blip,” he said.
Candice, a southwestern Ontario mother of four who asked that her last name be withheld because of fears of being harassed for her views, said she liked the paper so much she subscribed to it two months ago.
“This newspaper gives a pretty decent view on what’s going on,” she said. “They’re obviously not shying away from the fact they are anti-communist, and some people don’t like that. Some people think that they’re out to lunch. But I’m not one of those people.”
Candice said she doesn’t think the paper stokes racist sentiments and likes the variety of the content.
“I see it as being hard to get diverse thoughts, especially when now, the catch phrases of misinformation, disinformation get thrown around over a multitude of topics,” she said. “I’d rather know more about what’s going on rather than hiding from it.”
She is able to find coverage she can’t find elsewhere, she said, such as stories about positive changes made by the Trump administration.
“Mainstream media would be more like, ‘We hate Trump, so we’re going to … write about that,'” she said. “I don’t hate Trump.”
Trump rhetoric on China helped raised profile
Sonya Fatah, an assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, says she thinks most people who encounter the publication in Canada will realize it’s not a typical newspaper.
“It’s quite obvious that it’s very much focused on a specific mission, which is to bring down the CCP (Chinese Communist Party),” she said.
“What is interesting is that people are reacting to it very strongly. And I think the reaction is giving more space to the Epoch Times than perhaps we need to.”
Fatah said the paper’s profile has increased in the last four years, in part because its own stated goals were aligned with some of Donald Trump’s rhetoric on China.
“It’s been a little surprising, I think, for a lot of people who’ve kind of seen it as a fringe player,” Fatah said.
“Trump was, in a way, an excellent mouthpiece for the cause. He was out there calling the virus a ‘Chinese flu,’ the ‘Chinese virus.'”