Saskatoon

Canada-China translation project 'flushed down the toilet' due to tensions, says professor

A Saskatchewan academic appears to be the latest victim of the deteriorating relations between Canada and China after his two-year book translation project was unexpectedly cancelled. One expert says Canadians shouldn't expect things to improve any time soon.

Book series on Canadian Indigenous history was to be published this fall across China

Longtime University of Saskatchewan professor Keith Carlson is frustrated after his Chinese book translation project was cancelled. (Karen Pidskalny Photography)

A Saskatchewan academic appears to be the latest victim of the deteriorating relations between Canada and China, and one expert says Canadians shouldn't expect things to improve any time soon.

"What a frustration, I tell ya. It's pretty disappointing," longtime University of Saskatchewan history professor Keith Carlson said in an interview Monday.

Carlson, who is moving this fall to B.C.'s University of the Fraser Valley, said his heart sank when he read an email Saturday morning.

Carlson is an expert in North American Indigenous history and culture, and four of his books were being translated into Mandarin. The two year project was nearly complete. This fall, tens of thousands of copies were supposed to be sent to universities and libraries across China.

But in the email, Carlson was told the project was cancelled. The Chinese publisher did not want to be seen collaborating with a Canadian.

"One point four billion Chinese people will not be able to read these books about important aspects of Canadian Indigenous history," Carlson said.

Carlson said two years of work has been "flushed down the toilet." He said he also feels badly for the four Chinese researchers who worked with him, but declined to name them, saying he feared they could suffer consequences.

"You know, it takes a long time to translate a 350 -page book into Chinese and to capture all the nuances and things," he said. "And then suddenly 'Boom!' the rug's just pulled out from under them."

China-Canada relations have been tense since December when Canadian authorities detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Chinese authorities have since detained two Canadian executives and banned Canadian canola imports.

Carlson doesn't have an opinion on what the Canadian government should do, but said officials should be aware of all the sectors affected. He said Canada is caught in the middle of the volatile and "transactional" spat between China and the U.S.

University of Toronto professor Lynette Ong says there are signs of hope, such as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's recent talks with her Chinese counterpart.

But Ong says China is focused on protests in Hong Kong, a sluggish domestic economy and a trade war with the U.S. She said Canadian concerns are likely a low priority.

"I think Beijing has a lot on its mind right now. Its relations with Canada is probably pretty low on its agenda I would imagine, which is, you know, very bad news for us," she said.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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