Feud between Vietnamese TV station and community group escalates to death threat charge
Group denies SBTN is banned from Vietnamese Association of Toronto events
A rift between a Toronto Vietnamese television station and one of the largest Vietnamese community associations in the Greater Toronto Area has escalated into a criminal charge, and according to the broadcaster, a ban on it covering events in the local Vietnamese community.
Staff at the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN) told CBC News criticism of a performance at a festival run by the Vietnamese Association of Toronto (VAT) escalated into death threats, intimidation and a vote by VAT and other community members to ban SBTN from reporting on any Vietnamese community events.
- To read this story in Vietnamese: Mâu thuẫn giữa đài truyền hình Việt Nam tại địa phương và nhóm hội cộng đồng dẫn đến buộc tội đe dọa giết người
"By not being able to cover events in the community, it means they're putting us out of business and shutting us down," said Abbey Le, a reporter for SBTN.
The President of the Vietnamese Association of Toronto said no ban was ever imposed, claiming it was all a misunderstanding. Kien Le said a video posted online, which SBTN claims is proof of the ban, was actually a vote to ban the station from attending private planning meetings and not its public events.
The feud has now divided Toronto's Vietnamese community in a way that some say they've never seen.
Controversy stems from letter, reporter says
Khiet Nguyen, a reporter with SBTN, said what started the chain of events was criticism he raised of a performance at VAT's annual Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival in January.
He said he wrote a letter criticizing a performance, which he shared with VAT and his TV producer, Tam Tran. Tran posted it on her personal Facebook page — a move that prompted the outcry from VAT, Nguyen said.
Nguyen said at the urging of VAT, he signed an apology letter. He said he thought that was the end of the matter, but that's when he said the death threats began.
"This man, he warned me four times that he wanted to kill me," said Nguyen.
"From that moment I had to tell the police."
Police have now charged a 64-year-old man from the community with threatening death. He has been ordered to stay away from Nguyen.
Nguyen's colleagues at SBTN told CBC News that after the police report was filed, they started facing intimidation and backlash when covering community events.
"We were getting hostility at events. [VAT] had a private security guard standing behind me, three feet behind me, having their people circle me, pressuring me… intimidating me."
Last month, a video clip was posted online that SBTN staff say shows the network been formally banned from events.
CBC News obtained a copy of the video — that has since been taken down — which shows VAT's president calling for a vote at a meeting to ban SBTN from all community events.
In the video, Lee states on camera: "Members from various associations and groups across Toronto and the vicinity have voted 100 per cent to exclude SBTN Canada and their workers from entering into any of the Vietnamese Canadian community functions as of today. This issue will be reviewed in the future."
"I was really shocked at what they did in that video," said Tran.
Tran said the ban covering Vietnamese community events, has caused the network to struggle.
"I have three kids. I have a family, I have to bring butter and bread to my family and they're trying to ruin that," said Tran.
"That's why I need to speak up."
President denies ban
Kien Le, the president of VAT, told CBC News this is all a misunderstanding and claims there is no ban and no intimidation of SBTN at community events.
"Somehow that video got distributed out — not by us — and the misunderstanding started there," said Le, who said a member of another group at the meeting posted the video online.
Le said the vote was to ban SBTN from its private planning events, which he asserts are not in the public realm. He told CBC News the video is just an excerpt of what happened at the rest of the meeting, which took place in Vietnamese, and the clip in English lacks context.
"It's not a ban," said Le, who said that SBTN was welcome at community events after that meeting.
Members of Toronto's Vietnamese community said the feud between SBTN and VAT has polarized the community.
"I [have] never seen anything like this. The community is so divided," said Duy Le, who has volunteered with VAT in the past.
"There's lots of tensions."
The insurance broker said while he believes VAT has done great things for the community in the past, he called the video clip posted online of its president "disturbing."
Michael Le — another community activist — said he too hopes an understanding can be reached.
"We have to resolve differences in a better way, not like this," said Le.
VAT's president and other board members told CBC News they're willing to sit down with SBTN staff to resolve the matter. They said they hope both sides will address the rift at a community meeting slated for later this month.