Ottawa Book Festival Platforming Far-Right Speakers Uses Fake Employees and Misleading Sponsors

Mexican Embassy backs out of local book festival as organizations listed as corporate sponsors ask for their logos to be removed from website

At first glance, the “Ottawa International Food and Book Expo” might sound like any other ordinary event on the social calendars of local foodies and bookworms.

But not only will this year’s event platform several far-right speakers linked to the 2022 Freedom Convoy occupation, a number of the festival’s corporate sponsors and key employees also appear to be misleading or fake.

This year’s event, held at the historic Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park, is being promoted by Ottawa Tourism as a “celebration of literary culture, crafts, and food.”

The festival is emceed by former Much Music VJ Bill Welychka, features seminars on creative writing and self-publishing and has panels on big philosophical questions — it’s even hosting a “cougar dating event” for singles looking to partner with a “cub.”

While that may sound like your kind of weekend, a closer look does raise a few red flags. One panel features former Ontario PC MPP and anti-lockdown activist Randy Hillier, convoy leader Tom Quiggin and True North’s Andrew Lawton. Another panel features People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier.

The Ottawa book expo’s social media ads also feature scantily clad models in suggestive poses, something that may seem slightly off-topic for a literary festival.

Source: Ottawa International Food and Book Expo (TikTok)

In a statement to PressProgress late Friday night, the Embassy of Mexico, which had been scheduled to host a “celebration of Mexican-Canadian literature,” said it had “cancelled its participation in the event” noting concerns over other participants.

“The Embassy’s sole role is to support Mexican writers and the promotion of their books in public events in Canada,” an embassy spokesperson told PressProgress. “The embassy does not endorse the view of any participant or sponsor.”

Earlier Friday, the group Community Solidarity Ottawa issued an alert to residents raising concerns about festival organizers and participants, warning that “supporters of the 2022 Freedom Convoy” would be present in the area around Lansdowne Park.

Other organizations listed as sponsors and partners also want their logos removed from the festival’s website, though they say it’s because they never sponsored the festival in the first place.

The festival’s “about us” page identifies WCNY, a PBS affiliate based in Syracuse, New York as an “official sponsor,” while a page selling vendor tables and sponsorships features logos of the Hill Times newspaper and the Ottawa Public Library.

All three organizations deny they are sponsors or partners of the event.

“We are not a participant this year nor do we have an ongoing partnership with the organizers,” an Ottawa Public Library spokesperson told PressProgress.

Hill Times Publisher Anne Marie Creskey said the newspaper is “not a sponsor of this event” and “will be asking them to remove our logo from their website.”

Ray Samuels, the main organizer of the Ottawa book expo, says he is not at liberty to explain why the Hill Times’ logo was displayed on his website.

“I’m not privy to talk to a third party about a situation that does not involve the third party for confidentiality purposes,” Samuels told PressProgress. “It would be improper for us to have a conversation.”

Despite his policy, Samuels acknowledged receiving an email from the PBS affiliate demanding he remove their logo as an “official sponsor.” He claimed the logo, which is displayed on the festivals “about us” page, was on an “old part of the site” and claimed they participated “not this year, but previously.”

A PBS spokesperson clarified WCNY is “not a sponsor of this event” and added that they “have never been a sponsor.”

“They also included our logo as a sponsor in last year’s event, which was brought to our attention via social media,” the PBS spokesperson told PressProgress. “We emailed the organizer last year and asked for our logo to be removed from their website, as we have never been a sponsor, but did not receive a response back.”

Two other PBS affiliates in Watertown and Plattsburgh, New York confirmed they are a “media sponsor” but clarified it is “non-monetary.” Mark Prasuhn, President of WPBS, said they only agreed to “air a brief informational spot about the event … in exchange for being noted on the event website and publicity materials.”

Ottawa realtor Piriya Paramananthan, who is listed as one of the festival’s “2024 partners in success,” also denied her company was a sponsor.

“I am not an event sponsor,” Paramananthan told PressProgress. “I had also asked them to remove my logo and am not attending the event.”

Photo: Luke LeBrun (PressProgress)

Community Solidarity Ottawa, the group that first raised concerns about the book festival, says it is concerned both about the event legitimizing extremist speakers but also the threat gatherings of far-right figures poses to local residents and workers.

“We recognize the possibility that people who may come down to see some of the speakers at the Ottawa Food and Book Expo are likely to express support for adjacent far-right movements,” CSO told PressProgress, noting some of the speakers are known for “promoting conspiratorial tropes, alienating Muslims, and making harmful misinformed claims about gender affirming care and 2SLGBTQIA+ people.”

“We think it’s important that Ottawa residents, which includes people who live or work close to the Ottawa Food & Book Expo, and attendees of nearby functions like the PWHL game on Saturday, know who is speaking in their community.”

CSO also has concerns about Ray Samuels, the event organizer, which it describes as an “anti-vaccine advocate” and “conspiracy theory vlogger.”

Source: Ottawa International Food and Book Expo

The Ottawa International Food and Book Expo bills itself as a “community-driven and not-for-profit initiative,” but there appears to be no non-profit organizations incorporated under that name and the festival itself is run by a team of three.

Samuels, the festival’s main organizer, boasts of his experience with “grassroots campaigning for the People’s Party of Canada” and currently serves as leader of a PPC provincial spin-off party called the “Ontario People’s Front.”

Samuels also ran for office under UFO activist Paul Hellyer’s Canadian Action Party and has hosted events promoting antisemitic conspiracy theorist David Icke.

He additionally runs Agora Publishing, a “not-for-profit corporation” that offers authors  “consulting services” on how to “publish books” and “develop blogs” — Samuel himself runs several similar looking blogs and websites under different names.

The Ottawa book expo’s website lists only two other employees.

Peter Tremblay, the festival’s “volunteer manager,” is also the name of the author of a book published by Agora (which is advertised on the festival’s website next to sponsors) called “COVID-19: The Genetically Engineered Pandemic” that asks the question: “Did terrorists create COVID-19?”

Tremblay is also the author of “Justin Trudeau and The COVID-19 Biometric Vaccine Totalitarian Agenda,” “Justin Trudeau, Judicial Corruption and the Supreme Court of Canada: Aliens and Archons in Our Midst” and a book advocating expansion of the Canadian Football League by creating a “Canadian Football World League.”

No photos of Tremblay exist, but all were published by Samuels’ Agora Publishing.

Ottawa International Food and Book Expo

There is a photo of the festival’s other employee, John Stokes, who is listed as the head of “sponsor relations” — although that photo is demonstrably fake.

While a smiling bearded man named “John Stokes” lists himself as a full-time contractor with the Ottawa book expo on LinkedIn and another account with the same photo sells sponsorships to the Ottawa book expo on Facebook, this photo can be downloaded for free on the stock photo website

In response to questions from PressProgress about whether Stokes is a real person, Samuels did not answer the question but instead described the line of questioning as “American-style” journalism that is “not consistent with ethical media practices.”

“Whatever ethical practice that might be good in the States is not good in Canada,” Samuels said. “We take exception to that kind of nonsense here, and based upon our Canadian standards, your particular activity right now is sub-par.”

“If you want, practice what you do in the United States, it’s not working in Canada.”

Sources: LinkedIn, Facebook, Pexels

The same “John Stokes” account that has promoted the Ottawa book expo on its official Facebook page is also active in a number of UFO groups.

In one posting found in the “UFO’s in Canada” Facebook group, Stokes put out a call looking people who support “UFO disclosure of some kind” to run as candidates for Samuels’ Ontario People’s Front party in the 2022 provincial election.

Stokes has also promoted a fake news blog linked to Samuels in a group called “UFO News Reports.” One link to the blog solicits crowdfunding money to do “UFO journalism” while another claims the “neo-Nazi deep state” is preparing the public for an “alien false flag invasion.”

Source: John Stokes (Facebook)

Stokes is also a prolific author on the same fake news blog, writing articles ranging in topics from promoting the Ottawa book expo to suggesting aliens use COVID-19 vaccines to enslave humanity or claiming that Jesus was a “descendant of Black human being-looking Extraterrestrial time-travellers.”

The fake news blog uses a similar template as the Ottawa book expo and includes ads promoting the book festival and its “cougar dating night” alongside one of Stokes’ most recent articles claiming an “alien-Nazi alliance” could be responsible for setting fires at food processing plants and Kellogg’s cereal factories.

The Ottawa book expo is also being promoted next to a Holocaust denial article that claims interdimensional aliens known as the “archons” used mind control to force the Nazis to murder millions of Jews.

Source: Canadian Business Daily

When asked if he was posting about UFOs under the pseudonym John Stokes, Samuels abruptly ended his interview with PressProgress.

The Ottawa International Food and Book Expo runs from April 27 to 28.



Update 1: Following publication of this story, Ottawa Tourism provided the following statement to PressProgress indicating that it was no longer promoting the Ottawa International Food and Book Expo, explaining that it felt the festival “misrepresented itself” and does not meet the local tourism association’s “promotional standards”:

“Ottawa Tourism has removed the reference to this weekend’s Ottawa International Book Expo from our website, which we feel has misrepresented itself when submitting the information for our calendar of events that was quoted in the article. We took down the listing as soon as we discovered the details, thanks to the work of PressProgress. Ottawa is an inclusive, welcoming, diverse community and we are always proud to promote the vibrant festivals that take place in our city. Given the content of this event and the mix of events that are not in keeping with the spirit of how the Ottawa International Book Expo was represented to us, we do not feel that this event meets Ottawa Tourism’s promotional standards and has been removed from our website.”

Update 2: Mark Prasuhn, President and General Manager of WPBS in Watertown, NY, issued a statement Sunday that the PBS affiliate had cancelled its media sponsorship of the Ottawa International Food and Book Expo.

Prashun noted he did not want “WPBS to be misunderstood as being supportive of the actions of the Expo organizers as described in your story”:

“The information in your article is shocking and we had no idea about any of this. We will immediately be informing the Expo that we will no longer be a media sponsor.

Our media sponsorships are intended to promote events that celebrate Ottawa’s welcoming and inclusive spirit and communities, and your article makes it clear that this event does not hold to that standard.”

Update 3: Bill Welychka, the former Much Music VJ who was emceeing the festival, notified PressProgress that he pulled out of the Ottawa Food and Book Expo on the second day of the festival after reading this article.

Welychka explained that he was initially “honoured to be thought of as MC for the Ottawa Book and Food Expo,” noting that he recently published his autobiography, but came to feel the “tone of the event turned into something else”:

“When I readied myself for the second day, a friend forwarded me your article. I chose to remove myself from day two. I believe in loving everyone and elevating everyone around me. I discuss the importance of this in my book, in addition to writing about interviewing rock-stars for a living.

I do not want to be associated with any group, person or ideology that offends and/or is aligned with extremist values. Nor do I want racism, misogynistic attitudes, negativity or mistreatment of others anywhere in my life.

I followed Tourism Ottawa’s lead and removed myself from the event. I don’t think some on the organizing staff or volunteers planned on the event to be anything other than a gathering of people who love books and food. Period.

That is why I said yes. because I love books and food. It’s too bad the tone of the event turned into something else.”



Editor’s Note: This article expands on research and information first shared by Community Solidarity Ottawa and anti-hate researcher Dan Collen.


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Luke LeBrun
Luke LeBrun is the Editor of PressProgress. His reporting focuses on the federal political scene, right-wing politics as well as issues in technology, media and culture.

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