The complaints were lodged by Chinese Canadians, human rights activists, and those depicted in the program, which they say was strongly biased against Falun Gong and may have been orchestrated to curry favour with the Chinese regime.
According to the Falun Dafa Association of Canada (FDAC), letters of complaint “poured in” to the CBC in the weeks following the program, which aired on Oct. 30. However, CBC sold the program to several European countries, and France's TV5 Monde plans to air it this week.
In their letter to the CBC ombudsman, human rights lawyer David Matas and former MP David Kilgour called the program “inaccurate, manipulative, propagandistic and spiteful in a myriad of ways.”
“This is more than just inaccurate reporting. It is swallowing Communist Party propaganda and incitement to hatred against Falun Gong practitioners on the whole. It deserves the censure of the ombudsman,” the letter said.
Malaise in Chinatown insinuated that the arrival of Falun Gong in Montreal had upset a “fragile peace” in the city's Chinatown. What wasn't mentioned was the fact that Falun Gong had existed harmoniously in Montreal for years before the Chinese regime's persecution of the group began in 1999 and some pro-Beijing entities in Montreal began slandering the group, FDAC says.
The program attempted to minimize the well-documented persecution of Falun Gong in China, and portrayed reports of the illicit harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners' organs as having been concocted in response to developments in a lawsuit, while neglecting to mention supporting evidence of these claims.
However, around the time the program aired, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called for an investigation into and the prosecution of those who may be involved in organ-harvesting crimes in China.
"The alarming distortion of facts, manipulation of interviews and blatant ignoring of the regime's persecution of Falun Gong in this program is eerily similar to how the Chinese regime manipulates facts to persecute these people," said FDAC president Xun Li.
The program also gave much air time to Crescent Chau, a Montreal newspaper publisher. After Chau was paid by a woman with ties to the Chinese regime, he published articles accusing Falun Gong practitioners of being vampires and having sex with animals – content the Quebec Court of Appeals found to be defamatory and which the publisher continued to repeat despite two court orders telling him to stop.
FDAC believes the making of Malaise in Chinatown is connected to the blocking of the CBC website in China last January. At the time, because of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, CBC called the blockage "a matter of the gravest importance" and "a situation that we can't let continue."
CBC said it believed the blockage occurred because it had aired "Beyond the Red Wall: The Persecution of Falun Gong," an independent documentary that was critical of the Chinese regime's persecution of Falun Gong.
CBC had initially pulled the documentary just hours before it was scheduled to air after receiving a call from the Chinese embassy. It was eventually aired after some additional editing.
Around the time the website was blocked, French CBC producer Leon Laflamme and Radio-Canada reporter Solvieg Miller began contacting Falun Gong practitioners to produce what practitioners later came to understand would be a one-sided attack on Falun Gong that misleadingly advanced the views of the Chinese regime.
"The timing of it all calls into question the motives of this program's producers," said Li.