Misinformation, hate target Ontario student in food bank video

Claims that a TD Bank employee earning a high salary was fired after posting a video about how to access free food from a charity in Canada are false. The man in the clip is a graduate student who completed his internship with the bank prior to filming the advice segment, which he said shows a distribution service offered at his university.

"This man works as a bank data scientist for TD Canada earning an average of $98,000 per year and proudly uploaded this video showing how much 'free food' he gets from charity food banks," says Canadian entertainment company 6ixBuzz in an April 22, 2024 Instagram post.

The footage has spread across X, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

Users on X say they used a watermark over the clip to find the man's name, Mehul Prajapati, and a LinkedIn page detailing his employment. The profile has since been deleted.

Posts also allege the video prompted Prajapati's firing from the bank, a claim that some Indian media outlets have picked up. A few commenters call for Prajapati, who is from India, to be "on the next plane out."

<span>Screenshot of a post on X taken April 30, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a post on X taken April 30, 2024
<span>Screenshot of a post on X taken April 30, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a post on X taken April 30, 2024

The furor comes as local food assistance programs express growing concerns about meeting demand. The most recent data indicate 22.9 percent of Canadian households reported some form of food insecurity in 2022.

The posts also feed into an ongoing conversation in Canada about the challenges of population growth, which some attribute to immigration.

However, Prajapati told AFP in an April 26 interview that he does not earn the salary claimed in the posts -- and that he only worked for TD Bank as an intern from August to December 2023.

"After that I was not associated with them," he said. "And the salary -- I'm not sure from where people got this."

AFP viewed documents verifying Prajapati's internship ended in December 2023, which TD Bank also confirmed in a statement.

"The individual identified in the video is not a current TD employee and to our knowledge was not employed with TD at the time the video was posted," the company said in an April 29 email.

Student food bank

Prajapati said he came to Canada from India in 2022 to study as a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. He provided documentation to AFP that confirms he was enrolled as a student when the video was published.

Prajapati often posted music on his Instagram page alongside advice for newcomers to Canada. He said the video that sparked the false claims was intended to inform his followers about university services rather than general community food banks.

"This is a university resource which is meant for students," Prajapati said. "And they should utilize this when in need, and in a sensible way."

He said he was referencing his use of the Laurier Students' Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG), which says on its website that a student ID is required to access the service (archived here).

<span>Screenshot of the LSPIRG website taken April 30, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the LSPIRG website taken April 30, 2024
<span>Screenshot of the LSPIRG website taken April 30, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the LSPIRG website taken April 30, 2024

Other Canadian universities provide food services similar to LSPIRG for students and community members (archived here and here). AFP contacted LSPIRG for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.

Some commenters criticized Prajapati's use of a food bank since international students need to prove their financial stability before coming to Canada.

Before January 2024, the visa process required proof of access to at least Can$10,000 (about US$7,276). That has since risen to Can$20,635 (archived here).

In part due to pressure on the housing market and social services, Canada moved in January to cap the number of international students admitted to the country.

Online harassment

Prajapati told AFP he is staying inside due to the negative messages filling his inbox.

"It was filled with hundreds of messages -- things like 'go out of the country' and 'if I can find you on Facebook, I can find you in real life,'" he said.

"So all of this was mentally challenging for me to accept because I have not received such hatred, and it has just created a fear in myself."

Along with removing his LinkedIn account, Prajapati reduced his Instagram presence to just a few photos.

He also spoke with several different media outlets, including the Toronto Star, to try to clarify the circumstances that led to his video. He told AFP that some encouraging messages have started to trickle in, but he will still be limiting his time online.

"Once I am out of this thoroughly, mentally, I will think of posting my songs," Prajapati said.

Read more of AFP's reporting on misinformation in Canada here.