Paying a community newspaper to write a heartwarming story about a Syrian refugee family in an awards contest prompted PayPal to freeze a national media organization’s account after reporting the suspicious transaction, The Canadian Press has learned.

The action of the American Internet giant has aroused consternation, anxiety and raised questions about Canadian autonomy.

“It’s pretty scary how insidious the security agenda has become,” said John Hinds, CEO of News Media Canada. “Demonization and racial profiling is really scary too.”

The weekly Flin Flon Reminder published the article – titled “Syrian family adapts to new life” – last month as part of its submissions to the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards. The July 2016 report describes the challenges and triumphs as the family moves to the Manitoba city of 5,100 residents and the community’s willingness to welcome them.

Recall editor Valerie Durnin said that when she tried to pay the $ 242.95 for journal entries, PayPal reported that the payment may not be in accordance with its “acceptable use policy. “, which she said she had not been able to locate. PayPal promised to follow up within 72 hours of its investigation, which it never did. Instead, he canceled 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 award nominations.

“You can buy or sell goods or services that are regulated or prohibited by the US government,” PayPal said in an email to News Media Canada.

The note also requested a “full and detailed explanation of the transaction” and the purpose of payment, which corresponded to the title of the article.

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

PayPal’s post also said the company wanted to make sure people using the global payments service followed regulations, including those of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which, among other things, enforces sanctions. targeting foreign countries and regimes, terrorists and international drug traffickers.

Hours after The Canadian Press asked about the situation on Friday, the account was unblocked.

“As there have been transactions related to the word ‘Syria’, our teams are required to verify certain details in accordance with our obligations to comply with financial regulations,” a spokesperson for PayPal Canada said in an email. .

“We never want to obstruct people’s desire to do good (but) the US Treasury Department has clear regulations on payments to Syria.”

Yet Hinds said he was baffled by the “extraterritoriality” of what had happened.

“When did the US government start regulating Canadian media? Said Hinds. “It’s pretty clear that our account is a journal account. It’s not like we’re Hamas Inc.”

Bunt said the organization could neither send nor receive money during the lockdown, but the bulk of payments for more than 1,000 entries had already been processed before the shutdown.

“We encourage people to pay with PayPal because it’s faster for us and easier to follow,” Bunt said. “It was a very nice article, and unfortunately it was flagged for the word ‘Syrian’.”

Durnin said everyone was aware of the computer surveillance, but what happened happened near us.

“It’s quite strange and disturbing,” said Durnin, who initially thought the problem could have been with a new credit card. “It’s such a disconnect between the subject of the story and the reaction to it based on the words of the story.”

Hinds surmised that an autofilter had flagged the payment – “it would be worse if a human was involved” – but wondered how many other reporters or media outlets might be in trouble given the nature of the stories they make.

PayPal did not immediately explain its process.


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