Education minister pulling plug on Chinese education program in schools
Government is terminating Confucius Institute programs in New Brunswick classrooms
Education Minister Dominic Cardy is getting rid of a Chinese culture and language program operating in schools because of concerns that teachers are blacklisting topics that cast China in a bad light and only teach what the Chinese Communist Party approves.
The non-profit Confucius Institute has been operating in 28 New Brunswick schools, with more than 5,441 students taking part in 2016, according to the organization's website.
It is largely funded by the Chinese government and was introduced to New Brunswick in 2008, when Shawn Graham was the Liberal premier.
At the time, the New Brunswick government said the mandate was to teach and promote Chinese language and culture.
But Cardy said it's clear to him the program's real mandate is to present a "one-dimensional" view of China and to influence students to only perceive the country in a positive light.
"Their job is to create a friendly, cheerful, face for a government that is responsible for more deaths than nearly any other in the history of our species," Cardy said Thursday.
"And I don't think in an education system that is supposed to be the vehicle that transmits our values to the next generation that showing that we're open to a government that behaves that way is appropriate."
The program hosts teachers from China who have taught Mandarin, history and a variety of cultural practices, including calligraphy and arts in different classes across the province. The 28 anglophone schools include elementary schools and high schools in Fredericton, Oromocto, Bathurst, Saint John, Moncton, Dieppe, Rexton and Richibucto.
Cardy said he has already issued the Confucius Institute a letter of intent to discontinue the program. He hopes to have it gone by June.
He has also already informed Premier Blaine Higgs, as well as cabinet members, of his intent to remove the institute. Cardy is now reviewing the contract between the province and the Confucius Institute so he can terminate it.
"It's something that has concerned me. Not because of any feelings of dislike towards anyone in China, in fact quite the opposite. My concern is we have an institute whose job it is to put a very one-dimensional perspective of China into our schools
Cardy says he's recently received five complaints from students who attended the Confucius Institute programs. Each told of topics in Chinese history that were off-limits to discussion.
"One of them tried to discuss Taiwan's recognition and the professor told him he was forbidden from having this discussion," said Cardy.
CBC News has requested a copy of the letters, as well as a copy of the letter of intent sent to the Confucius Institute.
CBC News and Radio-Canada also made several attempts to contact the Confucius Institute of New Brunswick. No email or phone calls were returned.
History of controversy
The move by Cardy to remove the Confucius Institute from schools follows similar moves in other jurisdictions. In 2014 the Toronto District School Board voted to remove the institute from their schools following protests. McMaster University and the University of Manitoba have also removed the Confucius Institute from their campuses over freedom of education concerns.
Educators haven't been the only people to sound the alarm about the Confucius Institute. Seven years ago, CSIS issued warnings about the program. The agency suspected Confucius Institutes are used as spy satellite offices by China, according to a veteran Canadian operative.
In 2012, Michel-Juneau Katsuya , a former CSIS Asia-Pacific bureau chief, compared the Confucius Institute to a "Trojan horse." He said the programs were used by the Chinese government "to carry out intelligence and spying activities."
Defending the program
When Graham brought in the Confucius Institute, his government said it would also be a resource for companies wanting to do business in China.
Despite the criticism now, Graham said the program shouldn't be canned so quickly.
"To abandon the program today, simply by three or four students saying they weren't allowed to talk about Chinese politics, I think the better route would have been to undertake a review of the program," said Graham.
"Make sure the rules are being followed," he said. "Then you can make a better determination as a government how you want to send your first signal to that country."
Graham now owns a consulting business, G&R Holdings, where he works with several Chinese businesses to increase trade between China and Canada's East Coast.
"Does China matter, or does China not matter?" he asked.
"Today, the government of New Brunswick has to do business with China, so we have to be prudent and cautious during these heightened diplomatic times that show we want to respect human rights, and the federal government must continue to push for that."
With files from Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada