PayPal freezes Cana­dian me­dia group’s ac­count over story about Syr­ian fam­ily


A com­mu­nity news­pa­per’s pay­ment to en­ter a feel-good story about a fam­ily of Syr­ian refugees in an awards com­pe­ti­tion prompted PayPal to freeze the ac­count of a na­tional me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter flag­ging the sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tion, The Cana­dian Press has learned.

The ac­tion by the U.S.-based In­ter­net gi­ant sparked dis­may, anx­i­ety and raised ques­tions about Cana­dian au­ton­omy.

“It’s quite scary about how in­sid­i­ous the se­cu­rity agenda has be­come,” said John Hinds, CEO of News Me­dia Canada. “The de­mo­niza­tion and racial pro­fil­ing, that’s re­ally scary, too.”

The weekly Flin Flon Re­minder en­tered the ar­ti­cle — ti­tled “Syr­ian fam­ily adapts to new life” — last month as part of its sub­mis­sions to the an­nual Cana­dian Com­mu­nity News­pa­per Awards. The fea­ture story from July 2016 out­lines the chal­lenges and tri­umphs as the fam­ily set­tled in the Man­i­to­ban town of 5,100 and the com­mu­nity’s will­ing­ness to make them feel wel­come.

Flin Flon pub­lisher, Va­lerie Durnin, said when she tried to pay the $242.95 for the pa­per’s en­tries, PayPal flagged the pay­ment as pos­si­bly not in com­pli­ance with its “ac­cept­able use pol­icy,” which she said she hadn’t been able to track down. PayPal did prom­ise to fol­low up within 72 hours of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which it never did. In­stead it re­versed the pay­ment.

This week, Durnin called News Me­dia Canada — for­merly News­pa­per Canada — to find out what had hap­pened. They re­al­ized PayPal had frozen the News Me­dia Canada ac­count, said Nicole Bunt, who pro­cesses the awards en­tries.

“You may be buy­ing or sell­ing goods or ser­vices that are reg­u­lated or pro­hib­ited by the U.S. gov­ern­ment,” PayPal said in an email to News Me­dia Canada.

The note also re­quested a “com­plete and de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of the trans­ac­tion” and the pur­pose of the pay­ment, which iden­ti­fied with the story’s head­line.

“We would like to learn more about your busi­ness and/or some of your re­cent trans­ac­tions.”

The PayPal mes­sage also said the com­pany wanted to be sure that peo­ple us­ing the global pay­ment ser­vice com­plied with reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing those from the U.S. Trea­sury De­part­ment’s Of­fice of For­eign As­sets Con­trol, which, among other things, en­forces sanc­tions tar­get­ing for­eign coun­tries and regimes, ter­ror­ists and in­ter­na­tional nar­cotics traf­fick­ers.

Within hours of The Cana­dian Press ask­ing about the sit­u­a­tion on Fri­day, the ac­count was un­frozen.

“As there were some trans­ac­tions re­lated to the word ‘Syria,’ our teams are re­quired to check some de­tails as per our obli­ga­tions to com­ply with fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tions,” a PayPal Canada spokes­woman said in an email.

“We never want to get in the way of peo­ple’s de­sire to do good (but) the U.S. De­part­ment of Trea­sury has clear reg­u­la­tions about pay­ments to Syria.”

Still, Hinds said he was non­plussed by the “ex­trater­ri­to­ri­al­ity” of what had hap­pened.

“Since when did the U.S. gov­ern­ment start reg­u­lat­ing Cana­dian me­dia?” Hinds said. “It’s pretty clear that our ac­count is a news­pa­per ac­count. It’s not like we’re Ha­mas Inc.”

Durnin said ev­ery­one is aware of com­puter sur­veil­lance but what hap­pened had hit close to home.

“It’s pretty odd and un­set­tling,” said Durnin, who ini­tially thought the is­sue might have been a new credit card. “It’s such a dis­con­nect be­tween what the story is ac­tu­ally about and the re­ac­tion to it based on the words in the story.”

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