State-sponsored coronavirus disinformation hit

OTTAWA, April 3, 2020 (AFP) - Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne after a NATO meeting on Thursday slammed coronavirus disinformation campaigns spread by state actors, of which Russia has been accused.

"Disinformation was a big topic amongst NATO allies" at the meeting held by videoconference, Champagne told AFP.

"We stand united against a common enemy which is invisible and knows no borders. And we need to also stand ready to respond to the disinformation campaigns that we're seeing around the world," he said.

Champagne, although asked about it, did not specifically mention Russia in his remarks.

But a University of Calgary researcher earlier identified Russia as the main source of disinformation about the COVID-19 virus aimed at undermining faith in Western governments.

"Unwittingly, Canadian audiences will be exposed to fake news coming from Russia, potentially China and other players," public policy researcher Sergey Sukhankin told Canadian broadcaster CTV.

Russia has faced similar accusations before but has denied spreading false information about the origins of the coronavirus and scam cures.

"We are concerned about what we're hearing," said Champagne.

"Certainly this is not the time for a state actor or non-state actor to spread disinformation, at a time when basically humanity is facing one common challenge which is the virus," he said.

"We need to stand together as liberal democracies to make sure that we inform our citizens and equip them to make fact-based decisions, science-based decisions, and that we call out those who would be engaging in disinformation as a tool to exert influence at a time of crisis."