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Tyee exclusive on Trudeau’s hidden ‘cash for access’ fundraisers shakes up Parliament.

Robyn Smith 5 Dec

Robyn Smith is editor of The Tyee.

It started with a brown envelope. An actual brown envelope.

And it didn’t take long for our Parliament Hill reporter, Jeremy Nuttall, to start connecting the puzzling pieces inside: four photographs with the words “$1,500 a plate” written on the back.

The results of his work, a story published on The Tyee on Nov. 16, brought to light details of a private, “cash for access” fundraiser held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party with wealthy businesspeople and Chinese government-linked guests on May 19.

The Toronto event wasn’t listed on Trudeau’s itinerary, which said the prime minister was spending the day in “private meetings.”

The story grew on Nov. 22 after the Globe and Mail published further details about two guests who attended the dinner, including one who had been seeking Ottawa’s approval to begin operating a new bank aimed at Canada’s Chinese community.

That guest was Shenglin Xian. He was first mentioned in Nuttall’s Tyee story. Nuttall discovered Xian attended the fundraiser by sharing the brown-envelope photos with a contact, who was able to identify Xian.

Nuttall then checked Xian’s website and discovered more photos of the May 19 fundraiser. He ran those photos through Google image search and eventually landed on a Chinese-language publication, Dawa, which had further details about the event.

The issue of Trudeau’s “cash for access” fundraisers has continued to dominate the House of Commons. Several other mainstream outlets across Canada have covered the story, along with the New York Times, which credited The Tyee for its work.

It was thrilling to watch a story seeded on The Tyee make international news. But it’s also a great example of why small, local, regional, independent media matters.

Outlets like ours break stories all the time. And when bigger media pick them up, develop or amplify them, that’s a good day for journalism and democracy.

Nuttall was thrilled, too: “It’s been an exciting couple of weeks, and the best part is with the attention we’ve drawn to this story people are starting to take notice and question the connections to the Chinese government and those at Liberal fundraisers,” he told me.

Nuttall has been on the Ottawa beat for two years now. We were able to send him there through funds raised in 2013 from Tyee Builders — readers who contribute monthly donations to this publication.

And they still pay his salary today, allowing him to keep breaking and following stories.

Just last week, he identified yet another guest at the May fundraiser: a Toronto businessman hoping to sell $1 billion worth of canola oil to China. (After the event, as Nuttall reported, there was some government action on the canola file. The NDP has charged the fundraisers have “all the appearance of a conflict of interest.”)

The Tyee is able to break stories that hold power accountable because of the support of our readers. To help us pay for more reporting like this, please join us here.  [Tyee]

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