I recently finished reading Hitler’s Secret Army: A Hidden History of Spies, Saboteurs, and Traitors, by British journalist and documentary maker Tim Tate. It’s a deeply researched book about ultimately unsuccessful efforts by a mutt’s breakfast of homegrown British fascist groups, lone wolves and oddball networks to undermine support for the Allied war effort, as well as a few much more dangerous plots by well-connected, never-held-to-account native-born Nazis to overthrow the British government and install a puppet fascist regime.
It is unsettling on a whole bunch of levels, not the least of which is Tate’s conclusion in the book’s afterword, He notes that the events he described from more than 70 years ago may “sometimes feel like staring at another world…
But this is deceptive. The same ethical dilemmas which troubled politicians, civil servants and the security service before and during the Second World War have not gone away. How far away from the fundamental principles of a democracy — the individual’s right to hold and express views which the majority of the country would find abhorrent — should a democracy go to protect itself? …
Initially, at least, much of the effort against the Fifth Column was directed at the assumed threat from ‘alien nationals’ — immigrants who, for the most part, sought sanctuary in Britain; yet in reality the greatest danger was from domestic fascists and Nazi sympathizers…”
These days, he notes, “we see the same press-driven public suspicion” directed against refugees and immigrants from predominantly Islamic countries.
Tate is right.
And, in Canada, it seems, you can add innocent individual Chinese and Chinese Canadians to the too-long list of those generically and falsely targeted as dangers to our way of life.
Consider the case of First Catch, a Chinese export company that set up shop in Canada in 2016. In August 2022, it became the anchor tenant in the Stanfield Airport’s new Air Cargo Logistics Park. First Catch signed a 25-year lease and invested $9 million in the new facility. The space includes a first-in-Canada, state-of-the-art cold storage room — complete with its own closed circulation “lobster shower” that can keep up to 40 tons of live lobster alive and healthy for extended periods before shipping, thus reducing mortality in case of flight delays or order cancellations.
Given the importance of exports — more than 90 percent of exports from our airport is seafood, and most of that is live lobster — and the critical importance of getting the lobster, fresh and healthy, from trap to destinations around the world in under 60 hours, the new facility is vital.
Oh, and then there’s this: China is the second-largest export destination for Canadian lobster after the United States. Last year, Canadian shipments of live lobster to China were worth $450 million. Chinese demand for lobster has helped Canadian fishers too, keeping prices high even as landings increased. No wonder Chinese businesses are also interested in opportunities in Nova Scotia.
First Catch’s new Halifax facility “increases the efficiency, the capacity and the ability to actually move and export more product from Nova Scotia,” Marie Manning, the airport authority’s vice-president of business development, told the CBC. “That benefits not only the airport but certainly all of our stakeholders, the industry and the region itself. The economic impact is significant.”
Given all that, you might be surprised to know that a Nova Scotia member of parliament, Rick Perkins, who claims to represent the interests of lobster fishers, took the opportunity of a recent parliamentary committee hearing on foreign influence in the fishing industry to bash the Chinese, including especially First Catch.
My concern overall is the growing influence of China and the control of our lobster industry itself, and that’s throughout the supply chain… [Since they can’t own actual fishing licences], they’re trying to control the buying and the export at the airport. What about China? I know, for example, on the South Shore, I’m seeing China buy our buyers. What’s the impact of that? I also understand they control the freight forwarder at the Halifax airport.
Which is to say First Catch.
Perkins then upped the ante, claiming that “non-Chinese lobster buyers” in southwest Nova Scotia are forced to haul their live lobsters to airports in Moncton and New York “because of foreign control of the live seafood terminal at Halifax.”
These are explosive allegations, especially when piggybacked on top of the current debates in this country over Chinese attempts to interfere in our elections and threaten the relatives of Canadian MPs.
But the real question is this: are these accusations justified?
“My answer is no,” veteran lobster buyer Stewart Lamont told Withers. “A foreign-owned entity which has invested a substantial investment here in Nova Scotia is a part of the overall puzzle. There’s no denying that First Catch is a dominant player, but to suggest they control things I think is inappropriate.” His company, he adds “decide to whom we sell, at what price we sell, and what logistic options we provide to get the goods to the international market.”
The Halifax International Airport Authority also denied Perkins’s accusations, making clear that live lobster shippers have other options in Halifax besides First Catch for ground handling and shipping their catch. Some, in fact, do truck their lobsters to Moncton but not because they’re shut out of Halifax; it currently costs less to ship to China from Moncton.
Lister Li, the Canadian-based president of First Catch, says shares in the company are being transferred to her, making First Catch “a Canadian company.”
More significantly, she adds, “we don’t control all the lobster handling in Halifax. We only do what we are shipping out.” In fact, First Catch represented just 14 percent of the live lobster moved through the Halifax airport in 2022.
Where is Rick Perkins’s evidence to back up his serious allegations?
So far, nowhere to be seen.
Could it be that he is simply playing popular xenophobic dog whistles to demonize others for political gain?
Perkins needs to provide convincing evidence for his allegations — and now — or else he needs to apologize to First Catch and the Chinese community for his smear job.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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