Friday, February 19, 2016

Telling whoppers: The many faces of Bradley Saltzberg, Vancouver’s Anti-Asian Catfish

Telling whoppers: The many faces of Bradley Saltzberg, Vancouver’s Anti-Asian Catfish

Director of group opposed to multiculturalism uses fake identities to push views on journalists and politicians

BIO

Ian Young is the SCMP's former International Editor. A journalist for more than 20 years, he worked for Australian newspapers and the London Evening Standard before arriving in Hong Kong in 1997. There he won or shared awards for excellence in investigative reporting and human rights reporting, and the HK News Awards Scoop of the Year. He moved to Canada with his wife in 2010 and is now the SCMP's Vancouver correspondent.
In the documentary Catfish, a lovelorn Facebooker creates fictitious online personas to bolster a false impression of themselves and their popularity to outsiders, weaving a fake backdrop to their interactions in the virtual world.
It turns out that Vancouver’s political scene has its very own Catfish in the form of Bradley Saltzberg, director of activist group Putting Canada First and nemesis of multiculturalism and all things Asian.
Anyone with an email address and even a remote connection to the Vancouver civic arena will be familiar with Saltzberg, whose frequent correspondences rail against Asian encroachment on Canadian identity (the non-Asian part of it, anyway).
In recent weeks, he has set his sights on Meena Wong, the Beijing-born Hong Kong emigrant who is running for mayor of Vancouver as the candidate of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE). When I asked him about one of Wong’s policies, he refused to explain whether he agreed or disagreed with it,  since a Wong mayoralty could only make Vancouver “more Asian”.
It wasn’t only Saltzberg. Lengthy emails from two apparently like-minded citizens started splashing into the inboxes of dozens of journalists, politicians and candidates.
Their names were Pascal Brody, and Paul Bradley. Peculiar phonetic similarities aside, their rhetoric hewed close: Brody highlighted Wong’s well known links to Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow and warned: “Canadians of European Origin would be wise to note this potential leadership scenario”. Bradley thundered: “Just say NO to COPE and their anti-Canadian, anti-Canadians of European Origin agenda.”
Besides their co-ordinated rhetoric, something seemed a little off about Messrs Bradley and Brody. When one emailed, the other would too, sometimes within a matter of a few minutes. Brody would send photographs taken with the same smartphone used by Saltzberg, a Motorola XT1032.
I emailed Bradley and Brody to ask for interviews. In my experience, anyone who bombards journalists with 600-word emails is generally only too happy to talk. Bradley wrote back to demur, saying I should speak to a representative of Putting Canada First instead. Brody didn’t respond at all, an unusual non-reaction from someone who signed his emails with such flourish, “Pascal Brody, Vancouver Community Activist.”
My next email to the pair was frank. I asked both if they were actually Brad Saltzberg. I provided my phone numbers so that they could call to refute the suggestion.
Silence. No calls. No more emails.
I called Saltzberg (I had spoken to him previously, and, I like to think, given him a fair hearing).
The conversation was unusual and uncomfortable, though more for Saltzberg than me, I suspect. I flatly stated my belief that both Brody and Bradley were, in fact, Saltzberg.
Saltzberg: Ahh. That’s your impression. Umm… (pause).
Me: Is that true?
Saltzberg: …umm...no. No.
It was a less-than-convincing denial, considering I had just accused him of using fake identities. I pressed on, as Saltzberg’s responses got stranger. He expressed no real anger at my rather grave suggestions. Instead, he asked: “Why are you asking all these questions Ian? I mean, what are you driving at?”
Me: Well I was under the impression that Paul and Pascal are both you.
Saltzberg: Ahh, well, that’s your, I don’t know. That’s your opinion, I guess.
I asked Saltzberg if he knew Brody and Bradley. He said he did, and that both men were “supporters of our organisation”. He said it was “possible” that Brody had obtained access to photos taken with his phone. I asked several times if he had he ever met them in person. A simple yes-no would have sufficed. Instead: “Stop asking me these questions please. OK?”... “This is a futile conversation. It’s not leading anywhere”… “I’m not answering these questions. Come on. You can see that right?”
I tried a different tack. Did Brody have brown hair or black hair? Was he tall or short? Big or small?
Saltzberg refused to say, correctly pointing out again that our conversation was going nowhere, and it was starting to get a bit silly.
I ended by proposing a joint telephone interview with Brody and Bradley, with Saltzberg listening in to allay any of his concerns about what I would ask. He promised to look into it, but it never eventuated, of course.
There is no Pascal Brody in Vancouver, or anywhere else in Canada for that matter (there is a blameless doctor in Florida called Brody Pascal). There are a couple of Paul Bradleys, but neither expressed knowledge of the emails after I called and left messages.
In his own way, Saltzberg is a lot like the poor lonely soul revealed at the end of the Catfish saga, simply looking for a little love. Yet his attempted deceptions are not trivial, and their sadness not worthy of sympathy. His commentary and opinions have appeared in a wide range of media, print and broadcast, English and Chinese. He has consistently portrayed himself not as a fringe dweller, but as part of a wider, unreported mass of public opinion. He has claimed his group has hundreds of members and he is avidly attempting to sway public policy. I make no assessment here of the validity of his views. But his tactics are ridiculous.