Lawmakers and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, urged Canada to open its doors for people fleeing Hong Kong after Beijing’s decision to impose national security laws in the former British colony.
They also called on Canadian lawmakers to continue parliamentary sessions on Canadian-Chinese relations and prepare to sanction Chinese officials responsible for quelling dissent in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protests have raged for nearly a year in the city before Beijing’s May 21 announcement that they would introduce security laws to target subversion and sedition – measures which Canada and allies have warned could be used as a tool for political persecution.
As The Globe and Mail first reported in May, nearly 50 Hong Kong residents, most of them participating in pro-democracy protests, have applied for refugee status in Canada.
Human rights groups and lawmakers, including Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, said they expect a further exodus from Hong Kong consisting of three different peoples: some of the 300,000 Hong Kong citizens with Canadian citizenship, which comprise the largest foreign community second Canada; Hong Kong residents with relatives in Canada; and finally, people fleeing crackdowns that have no connection to Canada.
“With the passage of the new security law, we can expect more Hong Kong residents to flee the city and it is our hope that Canada will welcome those who end up on our coast,” Avvy Go, director of the Toronto and Southeast Asia Legal Clinic Toronto, said Monday in a webinar hosted by human rights groups.
“Given Canada’s long history with Hong Kong and the close relations between people in these two places, the Canadian government has a moral obligation to act.”
He said that his clinic got a call from Canadians who were worried about the safety of their loved ones who remained there. There are more than 500,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent.
The groups asked Ottawa to prepare to launch a Canadian family sponsorship application for family members coming from Hong Kong and expand the program to accommodate more relatives. They also asked that Canada grant more temporary resident visas to eligible Hong Kong residents who want to work and study here – even if applicants face charges related to demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Finally, they said Canada must accept asylum seekers facing charges related to their political activities in Hong Kong, warning that Beijing might use its new legal authority to prevent protesters from leaving the city, including Canadian citizens.
“Time to act now. “As China continues to crack down on democracy movements in Hong Kong, it may soon find a way to ban Hong Kong activists from leaving the city,” Go said. Even with those who are Canadian citizens, China may refuse to admit that they are dual citizenship and refuse their departure from Hong Kong. “
Details of the new security law have not been published. Chinese and Hong Kong officials have justified the law as necessary to restore order in a city that has been undermined by anti-Chinese, anti-government protests that have sometimes been violent over the past year. They said the law would only apply to a small number of “troublemakers.”
Mr. Chiu from the Conservative Party urged the Liberal government to re-establish the House of Commons Special Committee on Canadian-Chinese Relations to begin a study of how the country should prepare for a more aggressive China on the world stage. Liberals and the NDP rejected a motion last week to allow the committee to sit during the summer months to hold hearings in Hong Kong and formulate new policies to engage with China.
But the NDP reversed course on Monday. NDP Member of Parliament Heather McPherson said she would like to see the government restore the Commons permanent committee on foreign affairs and “we will welcome the return of the Canada-China committee.”
Chiu also said Canada needed to be ready to impose sanctions – under the Canadian version of the Magnitsky Act – on Chinese officials responsible for destroying dissent in Hong Kong. This Canadian law allows for the denial of travel visas and the freezing of bank accounts of people involved in serious human rights violations.
Liberal lawmaker Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said Canada must try to expand the list of countries that oppose Chinese actions against Hong Kong. Last week, Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia made strong statements urging Beijing to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“We need to expand the community of countries that will call on China to respect democracy in Hong Kong,” Erskine-Smith said.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said Ottawa must respond to China’s “power struggle” with careful planning.
“The callous truth is more likely that Beijing has calculated that in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and global economic turmoil, the government will be disrupted or reluctant to tighten trade relations, and thus not press this,” Neve said.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have documented arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and torture by Hong Kong police since mass protests began in mid-2019 over proposed legislative changes that would allow extradition to mainland China.
This protest developed into a demand for democracy and greater autonomy.
With a report from Reuters
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