A Chinese reporter scuffled with security on Friday after he attempted to ask a question at a press conference with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in northern Quebec, CBC reports.
Li Xuejiang, Canadian bureau chief of the People’s Daily, has been travelling with Harper on his tour of northern Canada this week.
The tussle came on the last stop of a six-day trip that featured some frayed nerves and sharp words between reporters and members of the Prime Minister’s Office, but was generally seen as relatively smooth considering its length and the rough nature of the travel.
Li was allegedly involved in a “brief physical altercation” with Harper’s press secretary Julie Vaux, before he attempted to take the microphone from a member of Harper’s team. After a brief scuffle over the mic, three members of the prime minister’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) security detail grabbed Li and dragged him out of the room. Li was briefly detained.
According to the Calgary Herald, the pool of reporters travelling with the notoriously question-shy Harper had agreed that Li would ask one of the five questions permitted by the prime minister’s team.
After the press submitted their list of questioners to the prime minister’s office, a member of the team reportedly said that Harper had “declined to take a question from Li”.
Li, who along with Xinhua bureau chief Dacheng Zhang has complained of being kept away from events during the tour, attempted to get in line to ask Harper a question, after which his altercation with Vaux occurred.
In an interview later, he claimed she had shoved him first. But he acknowledged pushing her. “I was in the line. She corrected me several times, so I pushed her,” Li said.
“We’ll be raising the matter with the Press Gallery, and Mr. Li should apologize immediately,” the PMO’s communications director, Andrew MacDougall, tweeted later. “Agree or disagree with how things are run, there was no excuse for Mr. Li to get physical with our staff.”
Asked whether he would apologize, Li said: “They should apologize to me, for being not fair. For depriving my right to ask questions.”
Li’s question, according to CBC, was fairly innocuous.
“I wanted to clarify the federal government policy and the regulations toward foreign state-owned company investment,” Li told the Canadian broadcaster. According to Li, Vaux tried to get him to give up his agreed upon question slot to a Canadian journalist, a move Li rejected as “unfair”.
Harper has been criticised in the past for controlling who can ask questions at press events, particularly with regard to the international media. In 2007 the Canadian Association of Journalists awarded the prime minister the Code of Silence Award for, among other things, “stalling access to information requests and blackballing reporters who ask tough questions.”
[Image via CBC]