Tory MP presses minister to apologize for WeChat group post crowdfunding lawsuit

Click to play video: 'Tory MP presses Liberal minister on allowing WeChat post attacking Global News' Tory MP presses Liberal minister on allowing WeChat post attacking Global News
On Wednesday in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Rosemarie Falk pressed Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray in a series of back-and-forth questions, in which Falk criticized Murray for letting her WeChat group be used by an individual promoting a fundraising campaign to 'sue Global News for their story criticizing the Chinese Communist Party.' – May 27, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include reference to a press release issued by the group pursuing the lawsuit against Global News that has since been shared.

Conservative MP Rosemarie Falk pressed on Wednesday for a Liberal cabinet minister to apologize for allowing a post on her community WeChat group that sought to crowdfund a lawsuit against Global News for exposing Chinese state-backed efforts to hoard personal protective equipment.

But Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray offered none.

“As we all know, community outreach is a very important part of the work of a member of Parliament. WeChat is one of many social media sites regularly used by members –” Murray said before her time for responding to the question from Falk expired.

Falk pressed again: “When will the minister apologize to Sam Cooper and Global News?”

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Murray offered little further, instead repeating comments similar to what she said on Tuesday when first questioned about the matter.

“I have been very clear that I do not share the views of the poster. The person who posted on my WeChat site operated outside the –” she said before she was again cut off.

READ MORE: Trudeau says using minister’s WeChat group to fund lawsuit against journalist was ‘unacceptable’

House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, serving in his current role as chair of the special committee where MPs have been meeting regularly to discuss the pandemic response, has been enforcing the rule that the length of answers should match the length of questions.

As a result, many long responses get cut off early when they come in response to brief questions.

That was the case repeatedly for Murray, who was pressed again and again about the post on the WeChat group that is run on her behalf by one of her staff members.

Murray says the group serves as a form of community outreach with Chinese-Canadian members of her constituency, but the platform — like virtually all social media — has been criticized for fostering the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories.

She also said on Tuesday that the member of the group who posted the link has been removed.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the post “unacceptable” when asked about it in the House of Commons on Tuesday as well.

“As a party and a government, we value the important work that journalists do right across the country. Attacking the integrity of hard-working journalists is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

“The individual who posted this link on the particular group is no longer a member of the group and is not affiliated with the electoral district association in question.”

In a press release on May 27, a group calling itself the Maple Leafs Anti-Racism Actions Association said it is pursuing the lawsuit against Global News because it feels that the report on the stockpiling “maligned” Chinese-Canadians.

“We are not attacking the integrity of Mr. Sam Cooper or calling him a racist,” the press release said. “We expect that some Canadians of Chinese heritage may not feel the same way as we do towards Mr. Cooper’s report.”

It continued: “We are committed to the Canadian value of freedom of the press and we regret that we have to take this action to protect our community’s image and integrity.”

The release also said the group apologizes to Murray.

“We offer our apologies to Minister Joyce Murray for the inadvertent action of one of our overly enthusiastic members who posted a fundraising appeal in a WeChat group of Ms. Murray’s supporters. But her actions demonstrated her deep concern about Mr. Cooper’s unbalanced article and her feeling is shared by all of us at MLARA.”

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Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: How a secretive organization helped China hoard PPE' Coronavirus outbreak: How a secretive organization helped China hoard PPE
Coronavirus outbreak: How a secretive organization helped China hoard PPE – Apr 30, 2020

Last month, an investigation by Global News journalist Sam Cooper revealed that China launched a state-level operation in January to corner the global market on personal protective equipment even as it was publicly insisting that the coronavirus outbreak spreading through its population was under control.

The virus has since infected more than 5.6 million people globally and killed 350,958.

In Canada, there are now 87,471 cases and 6,760 deaths.

“Global News is committed to following journalistic standards and practices, and we stand by Sam Cooper’s article and support his ongoing investigation in a matter of significant public interest,” a spokesperson for Global News said.

“We are increasingly concerned by what appears to be an organized effort to discredit our journalist, our reporting and our news division as we investigate the serious issue of foreign influence in Canadian affairs.”

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One Canadian former diplomat who served in China called the strategy “lawfare” — trying to weaponize the law to silence scrutiny.

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