The newspaper’s disputed reporting is causing a stir in some communities across Canada
Across the country, The Epoch Times has been showing up unsolicited on Canadians’ doorsteps. Despite calls from members of the public, including postal workers, to stop the newspaper from being delivered, Canada Post has been unable to act due to free speech laws.
Toronto Centre MP, Marci Ien, said she has received several complaints from her constituents regarding the newspaper. “While The Epoch Times has engaged in questionable behaviour, it does not meet the criteria for prohibiting distribution,” wrote Ien in an email.
The Epoch Times has gained public notoriety due to their controversial reporting. On their website, The Epoch Times refers to the COVID-19 virus as the CCP virus, short for the Chinese Communist Party virus. A brief perusing of the newspaper reveals some other inflammatory content, including one article titled, “After transgender comes ‘transable’ healthy limb amputations” an opinion piece which appears to make a mockery of individual gender identities and stir transphobic rhetoric.
Investigations by The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the New York Times, NBC, Snopes, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact, among others, have reported various strange practices at The Epoch Times and its parent company Epoch Media Group. The big takeaways from these investigations were that The Epoch Times appears to have close ties with a religious group in China called Falun Gong and that the newspaper prints stories that veer into the realm of misinformation and political bias.
About nine months ago, Alanna King started a petition to members of Parliament and to Doug Ettinger, the CEO and president of Canada Post, requesting that they cease delivery of The Epoch Times to people who have not requested the newspaper.
“Being a secondary school educator and working in Ontario, I feel like I battle the ideology that feeds hate every single day,” said King.
In NBC’s investigation, reporters Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins wrote that Facebook had banned The Epoch Times from advertising on their platform because of how much money the media company spent on pro-Trump advertising.
The Epoch Times published a response from the company’s publisher Stephen Gregory that states NBC’s reporting on this story “has been riddled with inaccuracies, blatant errors and misrepresentations.” Gregory did not comment on NBC’s allegations that the newspaper paid for pro-Trump advertising, and stated only that the ads were all to encourage subscribers.
The site’s headlines and articles on American politics have a clear right wing bias, with stories that claim mail-in voting likely leads to voter fraud and that Antifa is propping up the Black Lives Matter movement. These are just a few examples of the controversial content, which many deem as misinformation, that The Epoch Times spreads to their tens of millions of social media followers.
Since the petition began, it has gained over 9,000 signatures from Canadians across the country. Reasons for signing the petition cite misinformation, the spreading of conspiracy theories and hate speech.
Seeing the petition, Cindy Gu, the publisher of the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times, wrote in response that “Sampling is a common and established practice in the publishing industry. We have received overwhelming positive responses from those who received and read our sample editions.”
King, however, feels that the number of signatures are validating. “I felt that the petition was a chance to see if I’m not the only person that feels that this (newspaper) is inflammatory at the very least, if not really questionable in terms of Canadian values,” said King.
Following complaints from community members, in May 2020 the vice-president of the Scarborough branch of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Derek Richmond, sent a request to the government asking that The Epoch Times delivery be halted, according to the CBC’s reporting. The federal government, however, said that Canada Post was required to deliver the newspaper.
Although King did gain the attention of her local MP, Michael Chong and of Anita Anand, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, they both echoed the same sentiments.
“Freedom of the press is an important principle in a democracy,” wrote Chong in an email. “What newspapers get delivered is not a decision made by MPs, nor should it be.”
In January of this year, two postal workers in Regina were suspended for refusing to deliver The Epoch Times. Ramiro Sepulveda and Linying Su didn’t like the way the newspaper was covering the coronavirus and worried that it was contributing to anti-Chinese racism. Sepulveda was bothered by the way the newspaper touted theories as facts. Both postal workers were suspended for three days without pay, according to the CBC’s reporting.
Responding to the suggestion that The Epoch Times is anti-China, Gu wrote in an email, “We love China and the Chinese people. The communist regime that rules China should not be equated with the Chinese people.” She also wrote that The Epoch Times is telling people that the pandemic is not the fault of the Chinese people, but is the fault of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Valérie Chartrand, the media relations officer at Canada Post, wrote that “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. Any views we may have about the content do not change our obligation to deliver.”
Despite this, King isn’t ready to give up the fight. Having spoken to Sepulvida herself, she believes he should be allowed to refuse to deliver something he views as harmful to his safety or mental wellbeing. The Epoch Times may not constitute hate speech, she concedes, but to her it is purposefully provocative and stokes the political divide.
Beyond their reporting, their ties with other controversial media outlets further hinder their reputation. An investigation by Snopes revealed that another media outlet, called the BL, may be closely affiliated with The Epoch Times, although they deny any connection. Many of the BL’s supposed readers aren’t real people, according to the Snopes investigation.
According to the website Media Bias/Fact Check, The Epoch Times falls under the category of right wing bias and prints articles of “questionable” truthfulness. In contrast allsides.com, another media bias monitor, said that The Epoch Times does fairly balanced reporting, with a slight right wing bias.
“We are seeing polarization across Canada and that’s why I see this as being so important to take a stand on,” said King, who is looking to rally together anti-racism and anti-facism groups in her efforts to stop the paper from circulating.
“Minister Anand has looked into this matter further and officials recognize the serious issues surrounding this paper,” wrote MP Marci Ien, “future evaluations might yield a different outcome depending on the conduct of the newspaper itself.”