Harper limits questions, blocks Chinese journalist

Julian Wolfe
August 25th, 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrapped up his annual Northern Tour yesterday dodging the media and blocking Chinese journalist Li Xue Jiang from asking a question.

Li, Canada bureau chief for China’s largest newspaper the People’s Daily, was given the right to join the press gallery along the week-long tour. Yesterday, the press gallery allowed Li to wait in line to ask one of the limited number of questions Harper would allow, but as he waited, one of Harper’s staffers, Julie Vaux, approached him and told him he couldn’t ask his question.

Li got frustrated and responded, “Not fair, not fair,” and when he tried to get the mic, the RCMP hauled him to the back of the room.

Li said the RCMP “said I couldn’t ask a question. I said why?” He then told the Mounties the press gallery gave him the question and said, “It’s not democratic.”

“It’s not fair,” Li said afterward. “I would have liked the prime minister to clarify the federal government policy and regulations towards foreign state-owned companies investment because it is not clear since the Nexen takeover. People in China would want to know.”

Last winter, Harper allowed Chinese state-owned company CNOOC to buy Alberta’s Nexen in a $15 billion deal for the oil patch giant.

Harper’s tour was accompanied by 10 journalists and a tightly scripted question period allowing a maximum of five questions before he cuts off the press.

Li was given the indication he would be called upon to ask his question, but just before Harper became available, this right was revoked.

The PMO later accused Li of causing a physical confrontation writing, “Agree or disagree with how events are run, there was no excuse for the Chinese state reporter to get physical with our staff.”

Li rejected the premise, saying, “Why should I apologize? They should apologize to me for depriving me of my right to ask a question.”

The Canadian Press have been restricted and tamed by the Harper Government since its election, but this is the first time international press have been affected. What this will mean for Canada-China relations will also come to play. The People’s Daily is a state-owned newspaper and one can imagine the headline regarding the incident. While Harper has now expressed interest in doing business with China, he refused to do business with them in the beginning of his mandate citing their democratic and human rights records.

Hauling people out of events isn’t new for Harper. During the 2011 election campaign, there were a number of incidents where people were hauled out of events because they challenged Harper’s views and record.

What do you think of the way the Harper Government deals with domestic and international media? Are the limits to questions democratic? Should any journalist ever be hauled out of a government event? What does this mean for Canada-China relations moving forward?

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