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HomeBusinessCoquitlam school district sent 19-person delegation to China for spring break

Coquitlam school district sent 19-person delegation to China for spring break

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Bob Mackin 

British Columbia’s third-biggest school district sent eight officials and 11 teachers to China for spring break.

But the top officials are reluctant to talk about it.

School District No. 43 (Coquitlam) chair Michael Thomas, vice-chair Carol Brodie and superintendent Patricia Gartland did not respond for comment.

South China Normal University (SCNU)

Spokesperson Ken Hoff said by email that it was the first time since the pandemic began that the Coquitlam district resumed exchanges with China. Four trustees, four administrators and 11 teachers were on the junket, which was primarily funded by the Zhejiang Education Bureau in Hangzhou and South China Normal University (SCNU) in Guangzhou.

SCNU is Coquitlam’s partner in the Coquitlam Confucius Institute. 

“As the exchange was largely funded directly by third parties, we are unable to provide specific cost figures at this time,” Hoff said.

Teachers spent five days in Zhejiang schools and classrooms. Administrators visited schools and met with teachers principals and local district staff, “primarily focused on sister schools.” 

The entire delegation attended the Zhejiang STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Education Forum.

“SD43 is home to a large number of Chinese families, cultural exchanges of this nature are even more important to develop staff capacity to view their students through a multicultural lens so that they can better support all learners in our community,” Hoff said.

Gartland was featured in a 2017 documentary called “In the Name of Confucius” that took a critical look at China’s chain of Confucius Institutes and how they are used to spread Chinese Communist Party propaganda in western countries. 

In an interview with filmmaker Doris Liu, Gartland scoffed at a question about China’s human rights record, suggesting concerns are rooted in xenophobia. Gartland also said the school board can receive grants “from any source and if we receive it from the government of China, we are proud to do so.”

Coquitlam schools superintendent Patricia Gartland (China consulate)

Gartland provided a video greeting in 2022 for Year of the Tiger Lunar New Year celebrations in 2022, specifically naming the Chinese consulate general and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, the organization for foreign students that is ultimately controlled by the Chinese government. 

“I wish you all the best for the Spring Festival, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year of the tiger,” Gartland said. “I thank you for your support of B.C.-China, student exchanges, international education and our joint collaboration in the interests of intercultural understanding and international friendship.”

School District 43’s spring break trip coincided with a trip by five members of parliament and senators with the Canada-China Legislative Association to Beijing and Shanghai for bilateral meetings with Chinese government officials. The delegation included Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MP Don Davies and the committee’s co-chair, Toronto-area independent MP Han Dong.

Dong testified April 2 to the Hogue Commission, the judicial public inquiry that is investigating foreign interference by China in federal elections. He admitted that Chinese students were bused to his nomination meeting in 2019 where they voted for him to become the Liberal candidate in the Don Valley North riding.

A document by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, which was tabled at the Hogue Commission, called Canada a “high priority” target for foreign interference by China’s government.

“The [Chinese Communist Party] intends to use Canada and Canadians to proactively support PRC interests,” it said. 

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