Canada Post temporarily suspended two Regina postal workers in January after they refused to deliver a free sample edition of far-right newspaper The Epoch Times. Mail carriers Ramiro Sepulveda and Linying Su were both suspended without pay for three days after telling managers that they would not deliver the publication.
The Epoch Times is affiliated with the Falun Gong new religious movement in China. The founder and spiritual leader of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, has denounced “race-mixing” and homosexuality as immoral. Both Falun Gong and The Epoch Times are known for their vitriolic anti-communism, with a particular focus on criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In recent years the paper has cultivated an audience among the far right, championing Donald Trump and far-right European politicians while trafficking in conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the editors have consistently insinuated that the CCP is responsible for unleashing the novel coronavirus on the world. Last year’s free sample edition distributed to Canadian households suggested that the virus was created as a biological weapon in a Wuhan lab and that it should be called “the CCP virus”. This year’s sample edition includes a column by disgraced Canadian publisher Conrad Black, repeating these evidence-free claims and calling the coronavirus a “geopolitical masterstroke” by Beijing designed to weaken its rivals.
What the Epoch Times is doing is nothing new. It’s an all too common move from the far right playbook which figures like Donald Trump use regularly. Spreading theories about COVID-19 being a “CCP virus” is a clear racist dog whistle to encourage xenophobic attitudes in the population. Conrad Black himself has even gone so far as openly defending using terms like “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” in his Epoch Times column.
The Regina postal workers suspended for refusing to deliver The Epoch Times each have personal experience with xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. Sepulveda grew up in Regina as the son of Chilean immigrants. “I’ve been dealing with this s—t for 40 years,” he told the Regina Leader-Post, which noted that many of Sepulveda’s co-workers “are refugees, many are Chinese, and many felt uncomfortable delivering the flyers.”
Content such as that in The Epoch Times, Sepulveda said, “can cause a lot of hate” and “incite a lot of anger.” Proving Sepulveda’s point for him, his refusal to deliver the paper sparked a barrage of hate mail telling him to “go back to [his] own country” and making up insults in Spanish.
Linying Su, the other suspended postal worker, was born in China. She expressed discomfort with delivering the paper due to fears that its coverage of the Chinese government could further fan the flames of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism, already sharply on the rise in Canada. “I may not be able to stop other people from delivering these papers, but I can stop myself from doing things that betray my own belief,” Su said to CBC News.
Postal workers have rebelled before against having to deliver The Epoch Times. Last April, some Toronto mail carriers expressed their objections and their Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) local filed a request with the federal government seeking an interim order to halt delivery of the newspaper. The government denied their request, claiming the paper did not meet the legal criteria for hate speech.
Following the suspensions of Sepulveda and Su, the national office of CUPW has entered into discussions with Canada Post on the issue. William Johnson, president of CUPW Local 820 in Regina, says there must be an “alternative” to suspension for mail carriers uncomfortable with delivering The Epoch Times.
In statements to the media, Canada Post claimed that its hands are tied and that it is “obligated to deliver any mail that is properly prepared and paid for” unless that mail fits its definition of “non-mailable material”, which includes any mail that violates the Criminal Code. “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,” the company said.
However, the Canadian state has been more than happy to bar Canada Post from delivering certain publications. In November 2018, the federal government ordered Canada Post to permanently stop delivering the far-right tabloid Your Ward News on the grounds that the paper—which promoted anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi views—constituted “offensive material”. An Ontario court later found its publishers guilty of promoting hatred against women and Jews.
In the case of The Epoch Times, however, the paper’s dog whistle racism against the Chinese happens to dovetail nicely with the economic interests of the Canadian ruling class. Fightback has previously reported on the pervasive anti-China sentiment stoked by bourgeois politicians and media outlets in North America. The Globe and Mail is a representative example: Its reporting on nefarious “Chinese influence” in Canada is virtually indistinguishable from that found in the sample edition of The Epoch Times. In a recent Globe article on his impending retirement as Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance expressed the consensus of Canada’s ruling class by calling for a “grand strategy” to confront “Chinese expansionism”. The tacit racism of a publication like the Epoch Times simply poses as the ideological justification for Canadian Imperialist interests.
For class struggle methods, not bourgeois censorship
Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, U.S. and Canadian capitalists and their media mouthpieces have increasingly called for censorship and regulation of the Internet and social media in the name of fighting “fake news”. The Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol led to a strong resurgence of these demands. The right-wing response has been to condemn such censorship as an attack on “free speech”.
Hypocrisy pervades both sides of this ruling class spat. The liberal bourgeois media are the greatest purveyors of “fake news” and spent years disseminating the evidence-free Russiagate conspiracy theory. Likewise, the farcical claims of the right to be defending “free speech” and the “free press” are a sham. Under capitalism, where the means of communication are privately owned and a handful of unaccountable billionaires control all major media outlets, there can be no truly free press.
As Marxists, we support genuine free expression as a basic democratic right. The right to free expression, however, is not an abstract principle but a concrete class question. We oppose far-right publications such as The Epoch Times being able to freely put forward racist and reactionary views which threaten the working class and oppressed peoples. But we also cannot depend on the capitalist state or big business to stop the growth of the far right. Any censorship or repression targeting the right will always be directed with much greater force against workers, the left and marginalized groups.
Only the working class can defeat the far right, through class struggle methods and workers’ own organizations. Fightback stands in solidarity with the postal workers who refused to deliver the racist Epoch Times. CUPW’s leadership shouldn’t just support these workers, but should actively mobilize and educate the entire workforce in a mass refusal. The entire labour movement must stand behind these heroic mail carriers and generalize the refusal to spread racist propaganda.