School District 43’s Confucius Institute is coming under fire from a pro-democracy group concerned about China’s influence on Canadian society.
SD43’s 11-year old program offers culture and language classes at Coquitlam's Winslow Centre for kindergarten students through to adults for a small fee.
But a spokesperson for the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong — one of two groups hosting a special event titled “CCP Infiltration in the name of Confucius,” Thursday, Feb. 27 at Coquitlam Public Library's City Centre branch — said the institute is a front for the Chinese government to wield influence locally by presenting a “benign” face to the public.
“The teachers or the school will be talking about certain things and avoiding certain things. They do it in subtle ways. It’s lightly pushing the narrative in a certain direction that would create a positive image about the dictatorial regime there, and giving a false impression about what it really is,” said Ivy Li, a spokesperson for the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong.
While language and cultural classes taught by teachers hired by SD43 don’t on the surface appear concerning, Li said, she alleged they promote the Chinese government’s point of view, ignore history, appropriate cultural traditions for political gain and help to strengthen the dictatorship.
Speakers at Thursday's event are expected to expand on these topics as well as discuss concerns about China’s handling of the coronavirus and the use of paid protesters to support Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in her Vancouver court fight to avoid extradition on U.S. charges of fraud and breaching sanctions on Iran.
It is not known how many, if any SD43 school trustees, will be attending the event but all have been invited, as have councillors from the Tri-Cities and other Lower Mainland municipalities.
Board chair Kerri Palmer Isaak, the trustee for Anmore and Belcarra, said in a text she won’t attend as she has another commitment.
One Tri-City official who will be speaking at the event is Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, an outspoken critic of what he sees as China’s increasing influence in Canadian government institutions. West vigorously opposed Chinese sponsorship of a cocktail party at the Union of BC Municipalities convention last September.
Also on the panel will be Terry Glavin, an Ottawa Citizen and National Post columnist, and Doris Liu, a filmmaker and journalist, whose film In the Name of Confucius, will be screened at the event.
The Canadian Friends of Hong Kong is jointly sponsoring the event with the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement and this is their most recent effort, having aided in the publicity for the book Claws of the Panda: Beijing's Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada by author Jonathan Manthorpe.
Meanwhile, SD43 maintains the primary goal of the local Confucius Institute is to strengthen multicultural relationships with other countries and to promote cultural and education exchanges with schools in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.
On the district website, it explains that the program is similar to those that promote language and culture, such as France's Alliance Française, Italy's Società Dante Alighieri, Spain's Instituto Cervantes and Germany's Goethe-Institute.
Among the Confucius Institute programs offered in SD43 are Mandarin language, traditional Chinese painting, dance, choir and kung fu instruction. The institute also holds an annual Chinese Bridge Public Speaking Contest and hosts international standardized proficiency language tests.
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