See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil — at least, if you’re in the federal government.
In internal emails between cabinet aides, the expectation of keeping donations of pandemic supplies from China quiet was made very clear.
Liberal MP Han Dong questioned why Canada wasn’t applauding the efforts of Chinese corporations.
An aide in the Minister of Public Works’ office said “Han Dong is looking for background on what they [Chinese corporations] donated and why we aren’t touting their donation.” A staffer said “to be fair” the department isn’t publicly admiring any donations so this lack of attention may not be out of the ordinary.
Chinese retailer Alibaba Group donated masks, gloves, and medical goggles. The controversial tech company Huawei Technologies also donated PPE. The Canadian Red Cross testified at the Commons Health Committee that “it had received 42 tonnes of donations from China and five tonnes from Taiwan.”
On April 1, 2020, an email exchange between staff in the Prime Minister’s office revealed questions over Hauwei donations were expected. Staffers referenced the European Union also being asked about donations received from Huawei in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Poland, Greece, and Switzerland.
When questions were raised in the emails about whether this constitutes “mask diplomacy”, an aide said “their response was simply ‘that’s now how things work.’ Just FYI as we may soon get asked to confirm whether Canada is also in receipt of donations from Huawei.”
Speaking to the staffer’s earlier claim that none of the donations received were being publicly touted, an aide said “federal agencies also accepted donations from Home Depot and Suncor without fanfare.”
Allegedly there was embarrassment expressed “over a donation of 35,000 masks from South Korea for aged war veterans,” said Blacklock’s Reporter. This embarrassment was rooted in the fear of attention being drawn towards Canada’s mask shortages “and rationing of supplies to doctors and nurses” from the donations of equipment.
Travis Gordon, a senior policy advisor in the health minister’s office, said blatantly “if we can avoid referring to the quality or grade of masks to the extent possible, but given that it’s a donation I suppose we can’t redirect them to where they are sorely needed,” which are hospitals.
Gordon expressed fear over the situation being spun “into a story about how some vets in some long-term care homes will get N95s while doctors in hospitals are limited to one per day.”
Aides and staffers chimed in via email saying “don’t want to have unnecessary controversy,” and “I worry about the optics.” Another wrote “it still might be awkward.”
In Commons committee hearings, Dong shifted his focus from the lack of donation admiration to placing blame for the recent rise in anti-Asian racism on media coverage of the pandemic.
Dong said this increase in targeted racism “is of serious concern to me and my family, and I’m sure to all Canadians,” referencing the multitude of social media and television reports documenting Asian-Canadians being racially targeted.
Jackie Conroy is a reporter for the Western Standard
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