Anti-hate groups are urging the federal government to reconsider which employers can apply for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) after self-described white nationalist Paul Fromm received COVID-19 relief funds for two of his groups.
Vice first reported he received money for the Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE) after the government published a searchable registry of companies that have accessed CEWS.
CAFE is a non-profit that has intervened in several human rights cases across Canada, including on behalf of websites encouraging homophobia and Holocaust denial.
CBC News has since learned Fromm also received money for another group of his — Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform, which opposes foreign aid and multiculturalism.
Fromm has appeared in far-right protests, spoken regularly on the white nationalist radio show Stormfront, and is the subject of a Hamilton police investigation after complaints he shared the New Zealand mosque shooter’s manifesto on the CAFE website. Stormfront describes itself as being “pro-white news, opinion and inspiration.”
“I’m a white nationalist,” Fromm said in an interview. “I’m proud of our European heritage and I want to keep it.”
Still, he denies being labelled a neo-Nazi or white supremacist, and told CBC News on Wednesday that his organizations met all the requirements to receive CEWS funds.
“The criteria as I read it was not ‘What are your politics?’ The criteria is ‘Are you an employer, do you have an employer number, have you been impacted by the COVID shutdown and if so, you qualify up to a certain amount,” Fromm said.
“Given the rules, there’s not much [the government] can do.”
The government was unable to provide an interview.
Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary for the office of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said the government “categorically condemns white supremacy, far-right extremism, and racism in all its forms.”
“Wage subsidy funds can only be used for employee remuneration. Should these funds have been abused, the penalties can include repayment of the wage subsidy, an additional 25 per cent penalty, and potentially imprisonment in cases of fraud,” Cuplinskas wrote in an email.
Anti-hate groups want government to review system
Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said he was shocked to learn Fromm successfully applied to CEWS. Neo-Nazi groups getting taxpayer money is a “a glitch in the system” from a government trying to navigate a pandemic, he added.
“I don’t think any of us can really blame the government for having a glitch in the system. I think we can blame the government if this glitch in the system isn’t fixed immediately,” he said.
“I think Canadians want to hear our government say ‘Whoops, this was a mistake … it’s an outrage at a time when people are literally losing their homes and livelihoods and need this money badly, that it would be going to people like Paul Fromm.”
Fromm would not reveal the number of employees in either organization, but acknowledged the number was “small and modest.” He also didn’t disclose how much money he received but said it was “small potatoes.”
Cuplinskas wouldn’t say whether the government plans to investigate the issue further, but Kojo Damptey, Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion’s interim executive director, said he hopes it does.
“They should have a list of organizations that espouse racist rhetoric, xenophobic rhetoric, and not provide them with public funding,” he said. “If our government are funding racist institutions, white nationalist institutions, what kind of society are we building and what does it say to many marginalized communities that have been affected by this sort of rhetoric?”