I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 10 of the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada—China Relations. Pursuant to the order of reference of July 20, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study on Canada-China relations.
Today’s meeting is taking place by video conference.
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Interpretation in this video conference will work very much as it does in a regular committee meeting. At the bottom of your screen, you have the choice of either floor, English or French.
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I would like to welcome our first panel of witnesses. From Alliance Canada Hong Kong, we have Cherie Wong, executive director; and Davin Wong, director of youth engagement and policy initiatives. From Canada-Hong Kong Link, we have Gloria Fung, president and coordinator of a Canada-wide platform for 16 organizations concerned about Hong Kong. From Hong Kong Watch, we have Aileen Calverley, co-founder and trustee.
Each witness or organization will have seven to 10 minutes to make an opening statement, followed by a round of questions from the members.
Mr. Wong, please go ahead.
My name is Davin Wong. I'm the director of youth engagement and policy initiatives at ACHK and the former president of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union, HKUSU, until I fled Hong Kong. I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to testify.
I understand my privilege as a Canadian Hong Konger, and it is my duty to speak up. Though I am speaking to you as a Canadian citizen, I am at risk. The Hong Kong government has already issued warrants for six overseas advocates for “secession” and “colluding with foreign countries” under the national security law, one of whom is an American citizen advocating to their own government.
The national security law destroys Hong Kongers’ capacity to express opposing opinions. It is also used to disqualify candidates and hijack the LegCo election. My friends and activists are feeling the chilling effects under this draconian law. Hong Kongers now depend on their international allies to hold the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to account.
I would like to bring the committee back to a year ago, when I was still a student leader involved in the pro-democracy movement. At that time, I had been harassed, threatened and intimidated. On August 30, 2019, I was followed, beaten up and wounded by a man in a white T-shirt, which is a dress code known for pro-Beijing thugs. Three other activists were brutally attacked on the same day.
I did not go to the hospital after the attack. Hospitals are dangerous spaces for activists, as it was exposed that the police set up back doors to the hospital authority’s system to track down hospitalized protestors. At the time, HKUSU even had to set up an underground clinic with voluntary doctors and medical students for protesters who were in need of medical help.
I also didn't seek help from the police. Why would I? As an activist, the police see me as an enemy. I have witnessed their abuse of power and human rights violations. I have witnessed mass arrests. One in 10 of my friends has been arrested on bogus charges. I have carried a friend who was shot in the stomach by the police. I have had guns pointed at me and I still vividly remember the smell of tear gas. The Hong Kong Police Force arrested medics and reporters. Protestors were beaten, raped, tortured and denied due process. Do you know what my friends and I would carry to the protests? Our wills, because we feared that we would never see the sunlight again.
After the attack, I immediately booked my ticket at 3 p.m. and hopped on the plane at 7 p.m. I knew that fleeing Hong Kong was a one-way trip, but I still naively believed I might have a slight chance to return. The national security law killed it. Our advocacy work here can get us arrested under the broad definition of “collusion with foreign countries”. We are not safe even in Canada, as we have seen dissidents abducted by Beijing in other countries. The fear is real.
Regarding the national security law, Beijing’s claims of extraterritorial jurisdiction over acts committed by non-Hong Kong residents outside of the territory is amplifying Beijing’s global authoritarian ambition. This committee should also pay attention to Beijing's long arms and the interference that is already effectively undermining our freedoms in Canada.
While I am not an expert in national security, I witnessed their tactics, especially in academia and student activism. The liaison office was a major financial supporter of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association in Hong Kong universities. HKUSU was also once infiltrated by students trained by pro-Beijing groups. We worry that this kind of interference is already happening in Canada.
Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy have been destroyed. Journalists are guarding the last remnants of freedom of press and information, but the owner of Apple Daily, one of the most reliable sources in Hong Kong, was arrested under the national security law two days ago. The situation is urgent, and we’re running out of time.
I ask Canada to immediately offer safe haven for Hong Kongers, to curb the CCP’s malicious interference campaign at home and to work with our allies to hold the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to account.
Thank you again for letting me share my experience. I look forward to your questions.
My name is Cherie Wong, and I use she/her pronouns.
I was born in Canada and raised in the post-handover Hong Kong, so I'm honoured to be here today as a Hong Konger and as a Canadian. I am the co-founder and executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong. ACHK is a volunteer-led, multipartisan national collective of 18 community groups across 10 cities.
Since the start of Hong Kong's democratic movement, I have received death and rape threats, with implications to harm my family. During the launch week of ACHK, I received an ominous phone call to my hotel room saying that they're coming to collect me. The room was booked by another person, yet they still managed to find me.
On October 1, 2019, I co-led a protest on Parliament Hill with Ottawans Stand with Hong Kong. Days before the demonstration, we started to receive online threats. At the protest, we were verbally and physically assaulted, threatened and harassed. Over 100 pro-Beijing supporters were mobilized quickly, surrounded us and kettled us.
While the Ottawa police were called to escort us, pro-Beijing groups took photos and videos of us and continued to follow us, even as we drove away. After the protest, many of us had our private information maliciously published.
Canadians across the nation are forced to hide their identity or be targeted by pro-Beijing forces. What is even more worrying is that these interference campaigns are emboldened by Chinese diplomats in Canada. Tong Xiaoling, the consul general in Vancouver, has called on ethno-nationalistic unity in an attempt to assert control over the Sino communities.
Hong Kong is not only a foreign issue, which is why our demands are not only about advancing Hong Kong's democratic future, but it also reflects the ongoing issues facing Canadian communities.
Alongside Citizens' Press Conference, we consulted with 13,000 Canadians and Hong Kongers through a survey to inform Canada's five demands for action: provide humanitarian support for Hong Kongers, Uighurs, Tibetans, Chinese and other communities fleeing persecution; invoke sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials for human rights atrocities; protect Canadians' constitutional rights and freedoms from erosion; investigate and combat foreign interference into Canadian institutions; and end all exports of military/police goods and technology.
While we commend the decision to suspend sensitive military exports to Hong Kong, Canadian education institutions continue to be in a vulnerable position by trading funds for intellectual property. Three Canadian universities are in the top 10 in collaborating with the People's Liberation Army: McGill University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto.
Foreign state interference is deeply rooted in various aspects of Canadian society, including academia, media, social media, student communities, the private sector, education and political institutions. It has become clear that there is a coordinated campaign to infiltrate and influence Canadian society, and this is part of the CCP's global authoritarian agenda.
There's overwhelming support in Canada to stand against human rights atrocities, co-signed by 27 community leaders and 75 parliamentarians from all major political parties. We are calling on the government to invoke Magnitsky sanctions in collaboration with other middle powers.
The CCP has shown complete disregard for international rules. State suppression has only accelerated under the guise of COVID-19. Since the implementation of the national security law, the CCP has been using oppressive tactics that are used in Tibet and East Turkestan, notably on the first day of the national security law. Authorities have started to collect DNA from those who were arrested in Hong Kong.
There's a persistent characterization that Hong Kongers readily have the resources to emigrate, and that protesters are young. In reality, many of them do not have the material means to leave and may not qualify through regular pathways. We have a short window to act before the CCP completely shuts down the freedom of movement in Hong Kong.
As for Canada's role in the democratic movement in Hong Kong, I hope you can all agree that the democratic future must be of the people, by the people and for the people of Hong Kong.
Before wrapping up, I want to acknowledge the narrative that the CCP has created, an illusion of net benefits when trading with China. It is naive to believe the CCP will change. Time and again, the CCP has used trade as a weapon, and it is absolutely crucial that Canada begin to diversify our trade and economic relations with countries that are committed to democratic development and upholding human rights.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak here today. I look forward to your questions, and I hope we can offer insights to advance Canada's interests in this larger discussion about Canada-China relations.
Mr. Chair and members of the special committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee. I feel honoured to stand with the courageous people of Hong Kong in their struggle for freedom and human rights.
I am a proud Canadian who grew up in Hong Kong. I have been engaged in international justice work here since Canada-Hong Kong Link’s formation in 1997. Last year, when I saw millions in Hong Kong peacefully marching for basic civil rights and young front-line protesters courageously standing their ground despite being tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and even shot, it touched my heart. I know how hard it is in China to overcome one’s fear and to stand up for human dignity and fundamental rights, because I was a witness of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. I saw tanks crushing people and a man shot to death beside me. I will never underestimate the brutality of the Chinese Communist Party in silencing dissent.
In Hong Kong, during last year’s protests marked by escalating police brutality, over 9,000 people were arrested, some as young as 13 years old. They face prison terms of up to 10 years. This is the price they have to pay for struggling to preserve core values that we Canadians also cherish.
This year marked the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms under the one country, two systems framework, as Beijing imposed its new security law and cracked down on independent media and opposition. Many in Hong Kong fear they will suffer the same fate as the millions of interned Uighurs, Tibetans and faith groups, whose rights of free expression and worship are denied.
In addition to threatening the civil rights of Hong Kong people and the 300,000 Canadians living there, the national security law claims extraterritorial jurisdiction. Anyone anywhere in the world who criticizes the Chinese or Hong Kong governments could be considered a criminal under its vaguely worded provisions criminalizing the incitement of hatred against China. China has extradition treaties with many countries, and Canadian citizenship offers no protection. The two Michaels can attest to this, as they mark their 20th month of arbitrary detention under conditions amounting to torture.
Our government must take this grave threat to Canadians’ safety seriously. Approximately 50 Hong Kongers are seeking asylum in Canada. We anticipate a new wave of returned immigrants and asylum seekers after travel restrictions are lifted.
What is the impact of Hong Kong on the Canadian community?
What is happening in Hong Kong is vital to Canadian interests. As an increasingly powerful Chinese regime aims to expand its influence and subvert the international rule of law, Hong Kong is on the front line of a worldwide conflict pitting totalitarianism against freedom and democracy. Therefore, defending freedom in Hong Kong is also defending Canadians’ security, interests and core values.
Last June, Canada-Hong Kong Link staged our first anti-extradition bill rally, engaging a wide range of communities, including the Uighur, Tibetan, Taiwanese and religious sectors. Canadians’ support for Hong Kong grew into large demonstrations, involving thousands from coast to coast. Following the launch of an e-petition supporting democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, with thousands of signatories from across Canada, we have collectively built a nationwide network of organizations engaging voters to advocate for policy changes.
However, the Chinese Communist Party has launched covert operations to suppress our right to freedom of expression, using commercial blacklisting, threatening phone calls or emails, cyber-hacking and even physical confrontation. I have personally experienced all of these forms of intimidation. Anonymous callers have repeatedly warned me of serious consequences if I continue my advocacy. Google security has warned me of numerous state-level hacking attempts.
The most dramatic physical confrontations occurred in August last year. Chinese international students and pro-Beijing United Front organizations were mobilized to block and intimidate peaceful demonstrations in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver and many other cities around the world at the same time. In Toronto, they blocked our march and attempted to steal our flags, leading to police intervention. They screamed insults at us, sang the Chinese national anthem and booed us when we responded with O Canada. Older men with cellular phones stood apart from the crowd, apparently giving instructions.
At a Vancouver church, a prayer vigil for peace in Hong Kong was disrupted by 100 pro-Beijing protesters waving Chinese flags. Church members had to call the police so they could leave safely. These incidents are a clash of opposing values. We have documented them in the 2020 national report on harassment and intimidation compiled by Amnesty International and the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China.
Pro-Beijing United Front organizations have placed full-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers in Canada supporting the extradition bill and the new security law. In most Canadian Chinese-language media, coverage of Hong Kong issues is virtually controlled by the Chinese Communist Party either through direct ownership or through influence by the Chinese embassy and consulates. Journalistic freedom in Canada is limited.
In light of Beijing’s grievous assault on civil rights in Hong Kong, we call upon the Government of Canada to take the following actions. One, offer a “safe harbour program” with an expedited process to grant permanent residency status to Hong Kongers at risk of political persecution, including international students and expatriate workers who have participated in protests in Canada. Two, invoke the Magnitsky Law to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials who violate human rights and to ban them and their immediate family members from Canada and freeze their Canadian assets; the U.S. has already done this. Three, introduce legislation to combat foreign interference in Canadian politics and suppression of freedom of expression on Canadian soil.
Furthermore, we call on this committee to expedite the completion of the report on Hong Kong after this series of hearings and to immediately act on the proposed policies to address the human rights crisis in Hong Kong.
In conclusion, Canada needs to work with international allies to institute a strong policy towards China. It is way past time for Canada to show leadership on the world stage.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for having me here. It's my honour to speak to you today.
Since the national security law came into force on June 30, it has already been used to suppress freedom of expression and assembly on the streets, in the classroom and overseas. Over 30 protesters and activists have been arrested. Democracy itself has also been targeted by this new law. The Hong Kong government and Beijing officials in Hong Kong have used the threat of the national security law to quash dissent and undermine democracy by disqualifying 12 pro-democracy candidates who won primaries, and have threatened over 600,000 Hong Kongers who turned out to vote for those candidates in the primary elections. They then chose to postpone the elections.
Our concern now is that by invoking emergency colonial-era ordinances, Beijing will suspend democracy in Hong Kong indefinitely.
The new law is not limited to quashing opposition at the ballot box or on the streets. The introduction of national security education and encouraging students and teachers to monitor each other, as well as the firing of pro-democracy academic Professor Benny Tai, are blows to academic freedom.
Similarly, the arrest of Jimmy Lai, the owner of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, with 200 police officers raiding his headquarters, is a blow to press freedom.
Meanwhile, tech firms like Telegram, Facebook, Google and WhatsApp are in a standoff with authorities over the requirement that they co-operate with the police data requests in national security cases. These developments demonstrate the chilling effect the national security law is having on all sectors of Hong Kong society.
Recently, the U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong launched its inquiry report into human rights abuses by the Hong Kong Police Force. In direct breach of international humanitarian law, the police arrested dozens of medical workers who were trying to help injured protesters.
This does not only matter to Hong Kongers whose freedom has been stripped away; it matters to us in Canada. With over 900,000 Hong Kong Canadians living in Canada and Hong Kong, Canada has a special relationship with Hong Kong. If Canada, with its long history of defending human rights, is not willing to stand with like-minded partners in defence of Hong Kong's freedoms, then the values we believe in will be degraded, along with Canada's standing in the world.
The announcement by the Beijing government of a list of individuals overseas wanted under the national security law validates the authorities' worrying claim to overseas jurisdiction, its ability to target foreign nationals, and the fact that the law will be applied retroactively. As we have a large Hong Kong Canadian community in Canada, it is extremely concerning that six Hong Kong activists living in the U.K., Germany and the U.S. are all wanted under the law. One of the activists in question is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the U.S. for over 25 years. These activists are accused of inciting secession and colluding with foreign forces. The maximum penalty is lifelong imprisonment.
The law also harms Canada's business interests in the region. A recent report published by Hong Kong Watch, “Why Hong Kong matters”, found that the city, as a financial centre, continues to be indispensable to Chinese and international business, precisely because of the one country, two systems model, which guarantees freedoms and the rule of law.
Hong Kong remains the most important financial conduit between China and the rest of the world, and a key hub for Canadian businesses. Strip away the city's rule of law, and one of Asia's most important hubs will collapse. China must step back from the brink.
Before turning to what we should do, we must dispel a myth. It is often said that China is Canada's second-largest trading partner and Canada cannot afford to upset China, but let's look at the numbers.
In 2019, Canada's exports to China were 3.9% in total. Canada does not rely on China. The biggest trading partner of Canada is, of course, the United States, with 75% of Canadian exports going to the U.S. The second-largest trading partner of Canada is the European Union. A recent report published by the Henry Jackson Society found that, among the Five Eyes countries, Canada is the least reliant on China as an export market. The Canadian government should not hide behind the myth instead of standing up for its values.
Canada is not dependent on China. Canada must find its backbone and stand up to the CCP. There are three ways to do this: sanctions, diplomacy and refuge.
In response to the violation of the Joint Declaration, the U.S. government last week imposed sanctions on 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials, including Carrie Lam. This follows the enactment of the financial sanctions bill, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which enables the government to sanction individuals and financial institutions that have violated Hong Kong's autonomy. Canada should join them.
At Hong Kong Watch, our reasoning for supporting targeted sanctions has always been threefold. First, we recognize that targeting Hong Kong and Chinese officials is a deterrent, ensuring that continued violations of human rights are met with a steep personal price that includes the restriction of travel and financial penalties.
Second, despite the claims of a Chinese official that sanctions will have little personal impact, as he doesn't have a U.S. bank account or travel to the U.S., we know that they work. One executive with a China unit of a major European bank described all officials on the U.S. sanction list as “toxic” in the eyes of international banks. This is not to mention that, since many of the officials named on the list have family with foreign citizenship, a visa ban would create a considerable obstacle for them. The partners of Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng and the Secretary of Education Kevin Yeung have Canadian citizenship, and the Secretary for Home Affairs, Caspar Tsui, owns property here in Canada.
Third, target sanctions fall into a wider discussion about the international community's response to the Chinese Communist Party's expansionist strategy.
For Hong Kong, it is five minutes to midnight. We hope the Canadian government will play its part and have the courage to follow the example set by the U.S. and enact sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act in defence of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms.
For too long, Carrie Lam and CCP officials have been able to act with impunity in suspending freedoms and violating human rights. Of course, Magnitsky sanctions on their own are not the whole answer. They should be part of a wider approach that includes the offer of a lifeline to Hong Kongers, especially the young protestors who are in need, and the endorsement of the creation of a UN special envoy/rapporteur for Hong Kong to monitor and report on the situation on the ground. This would cover a comprehensive strategy of diplomacy, refuge and sanctions, which should be the bedrock of Canada's response with international partners to the crisis in Hong Kong.
Some who favour placing trade over human rights may argue that these measures will have little effect with Canada undertaking them alone and will serve only to antagonize China; however, Canada is not alone. In the last month, we have seen countries across the world suspending extradition treaties with Hong Kong and implementing export controls.
I am certain that if Canada chooses to act, it will find itself in close company with its key allies from the free world. It's time to take action. It's time to stand up for Hong Kong.
Thank you very much.
Thank you to all the witnesses. I'm so glad that we're finally here and that we're finally having these hearings on Hong Kong. I wish we had started these hearings on Hong Kong months ago. We didn't have the support of the government to do that back in May, but this powerful testimony that we're getting, better late than never, will hopefully be a huge wake-up call to all of us here, to parliamentarians, to the government and to all Canadians. We're hearing from witnesses who have a great understanding of Hong Kong, who love Hong Kong, but who first and foremost are proud Canadians and are talking about threats to their rights, their freedom and their sense of security here in Canada.
What I get from your testimony is that we're seeing in Hong Kong an attack on fundamental human rights, an attack on international law and a violation of China's commitments, but also really this unprecedented effort to formally seek extraterritorial jurisdiction over speech. The Chinese government now presumes that they can hold people accountable and they can prosecute people who are Canadian citizens for what they say in Canada. That should be a huge concern for all of us. Thank you for bringing that testimony.
I want to zero in on some action items. One of the witnesses said that the committee should table a report with some specific recommendations dealing with the issue of Hong Kong. I would like to get feedback from other witnesses on proceeding with that. When we see the events in Hong Kong, people hear “concern”, “grave concern”, etc. and they just get sick of hearing “concern”. They want to hear action items.
We have some good, specific action items, really four things that seemed to be similar across the witnesses: Magnitsky sanctions, which I think everybody mentioned; tough new legislation dealing with foreign interference, preventing Chinese state interference here in Canada; new pathways around immigration; and then proposals around diplomacy.
I guess I will just put my questions together and maybe we can hear from all of the witnesses on them.
Should we proceed with a report as a committee to put these issues on the parliamentary agenda? On the issue of sanctions, should we sanction Carrie Lam? Is that something Canada should follow up on? On the issue of foreign interference, it seems obvious to me, in a way, that we should have a zero tolerance policy for diplomats involved in foreign interference here in Canada. If you're intimidating Canadians and you're a diplomat, you should be sent home. We should end university co-operation with hostile foreign armies. It's crazy to me that we would have co-operation between the People's Liberation Army and our universities.
Those seem like clear, simple steps that the Canadian government could take right away. I would love to hear feedback from all of the witnesses on those points.
I call the meeting back to order.
Welcome back. I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the new witnesses.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. Having said that, during the question and answer period I think you'll find that the member who is asking a question will indicate who they would like to answer. You can go ahead and answer without waiting for me, until we get to the end of their time.
This is a reminder that all comments should be addressed through the chair. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much the way it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of the floor in either English or French. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will also need to switch the interpretation channel so that it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause while switching languages. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute, please. The use of headsets is strongly encouraged.
It's now my pleasure to welcome our second panel of witnesses. From Amnesty International Canada, we have Alex Neve, secretary-general; from the National Endowment for Democracy, we have Akram Keram, program officer for China; and from Human Rights Watch, we have Sophie Richardson, China director.
Each witness will have up to 10 minutes to make an opening statement, followed by a round of questions from the members. We'll have at least two rounds, I hope.
Mr. Neve, we'll begin with you. You have 10 minutes, sir.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's certainly a pleasure to be with the special committee this afternoon or this morning, for any of you who are out west, and to join with my two wonderful colleagues.
There have obviously been many troubling chapters along the road that have brought Hong Kongers to the terrifying reality they face today, which is a rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis that needs decisive and concerted international action. There was the umbrella movement six years ago, and then the courageous protests responding to extradition reform last year, and now the national security law, which Amnesty International has described as follows:
...Beijing's most breathtaking, threatening and callous attack yet...the greatest threat to human rights in the city's recent history.... The aim of Chinese authorities is to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward.
These are, of course, not abstract predictions, given the backdrop of China's long-standing and, frankly, atrocious human rights record, very much in the spotlight currently with the massive, harrowing campaign against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, arrests and unfair trials of human rights lawyers and advocates, ongoing abuses against Tibetans, the crackdown against Falun Gong—now into its 21st year—and, closer to home, eight Canadian prisoners in China of concern to Amnesty International. They include four Canadians who have been sentenced to death; two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested and detained; and two other Canadians, Huseyin Celil and Sun Qian, who are serving lengthy prison terms after deeply unfair trials.
With all of that in mind, we have pointed to 10 chilling reasons to be concerned about Hong Kong's national security law.
First, endangering national security can and does mean virtually anything. Secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces incur maximum penalties of life imprisonment and are so broadly defined that they can easily become catch-all offences.
Second, the law has been abused from day one. People have been arrested for possessing flags, stickers and banners with political slogans. Police and officials have claimed that slogans, T-shirts, songs, and even holding up pieces of white paper endanger national security. The Hong Kong government has declared that “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, a common political slogan during last year’s protests, connotes Hong Kong independence and is forbidden.
Third, the law is all-pervasive, including tightened controls over education, journalism and social media.
Fourth, people could be taken to mainland China for unfair trials, which is precisely what was at stake in last year’s massive protests against extradition reform.
Fifth, the law applies to everyone on the planet—literally everyone, everywhere.
Sixth, investigating authorities have new and extensive powers, including the power to search properties, restrict or prohibit travel, freeze or confiscate assets, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, including intercepting communications. All are without a court order.
Seventh, the Chinese central government is setting up an Office for Safeguarding National Security in the heart of Hong Kong. The office and its staff do not fall under Hong Kong’s jurisdiction.
Eighth, the Hong Kong government has set up a new body, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, including an adviser from the Chinese central government. Its decisions are not subject to court review.
Ninth, human rights protections risk being overridden. The national security law includes a general guarantee to respect human rights but grants immunities and vast exemptions to national security institutions, and it explicitly has precedence over any other laws.
Tenth, the law has already had an immediate, chilling effect. Hong Kongers have shut down their social media accounts, shops and restaurants have removed banners and stickers in support of the protest movement, and public libraries have sorted out books on sensitive issues and those authored by activists critical of the government.
There is little doubt that those grave concerns have indeed been proven out. Current Amnesty International press releases and urgent actions make that abundantly clear. The press releases state that four activists, three male and one female, aged 16 to 21, were arrested two weeks ago under the security law and accused of advocating Hong Kong Kong independence. As well, 12 pro-democracy candidates, including Joshua Wong, were disqualified from running in Hong Kong’s now-delayed Legislative Council elections. Among other grounds offered to justify this is that objecting to the recently enacted national security law demonstrates that they could not genuinely uphold their constitutional duty as lawmakers.
Most recent, of course, was yesterday's national security arrest of well-known democracy activist Agnes Chow, accused of inciting secession, and prominent publisher Jimmy Lai, two of his sons, and staff of his newspaper, the Apple Daily, for “colluding with foreign powers”.
Faced with this mounting crisis, here are five quick suggestions as to where Canada should focus its efforts.
First, multilateralism is key, and the wider and more diverse the coalition of states prepared to speak out about concerns, the more effective. Canada has done so on a number of occasions over the past year with respect to the crisis in Hong Kong and other concerns in China, including endorsing a joint oral statement from 28 governments at the UN Human Rights Council on June 30, and joining counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States in a statement of concern about Hong Kong two days ago. Broadening the group of states prepared to exert public pressure on China should be a strong focus for Canada.
Second, staying with multilateralism, Canada should actively pursue action within the UN human rights system. A public statement issued on June 26 by 50 UN independent human rights experts lays out a range of options, for instance, for moves that could be attempted at the UN Human Rights Council, the next session of which gets under way on September 14.
Third, Canada is well placed to lead international readiness for the prospect that many Hong Kongers may be forced to flee as refugees. The geography of Hong Kong is such that, unlike many refugee situations around the world, they clearly cannot escape across the most immediate border, that being China. People needing to flee will be in many different situations, including individuals with citizenship in other countries, such as over 300,000 Canadians residing in Hong Kong; individuals who are not citizens but have close family and other links to Canada or other countries; and those who have no strong connection with any other countries. Canada should be working to prepare arrangements to receive, potentially, a large number of Canadians who may be forced to leave Hong Kong suddenly, and should also be collaborating with other governments to prepare a well-coordinated response to wider refugee needs.
Fourth, Canada should be looking at options under Canadian law and policy to exert greater pressure directly. Human rights concerns in general, as well as with respect to Hong Kong, should be prioritized in all dealings with China, not just between diplomats but across all bilateral exchanges, including trade and investment. Extradition arrangements with Hong Kong have been suspended, and the transfer of sensitive security equipment has been tightened up. The government has been pressed by a sizable group of MPs and senators to consider sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act. In considering any and all further steps, it's advisable to prioritize measures that can be advanced multilaterally, in concert with other governments.
Finally, let me bring this very close to home. Amnesty International is part of the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, made up of 15 organizations here in Canada. On behalf of the coalition, we have prepared two reports over the past three years that document a disturbing and intensifying pattern of intimidation, interference and threats against human rights defenders who are based here and are involved in campaigning with respect to human rights concerns in China. The individuals responsible for these abuses are linked to, or at least encouraged and lauded by, Chinese government officials. Our most recent report, provided to the Canadian government in March of this year and released publicly in May, notes that over the past year, individuals supportive of the movement for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong in particular have been targeted relentlessly, including at demonstrations and through social media.
In 2017 and again this year, the coalition made numerous recommendations to the Canadian government for more effective action to protect human rights defenders in this country from these abuses, focusing on the need for more coordination among police, security, and government agencies and departments. To our considerable disappointment, we have had little response. Individuals experiencing these instances of interference and threats, including threats of sexual and other physical violence and threats against family members in Hong Kong or China, are largely left without effective recourse, often unsure where to turn and what to expect.
It may be a considerable challenge to counter China's influence on the world stage and it may be difficult to exert pressure for human rights reform on the ground in China, but there is no excuse for a failure to take robust and decisive steps to counter human rights abuses that may be linked to or backed by Beijing, that are connected to what is happening in Hong Kong and that take place here in Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's an honour to be offering testimony before this body today with other distinguished guests, including my friend Sophie.
I have been invited to offer remarks on behalf of Mr. Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, one of 11 Americans officially sanctioned by the Chinese government just yesterday for their support of pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is an international cosmopolitan city and global financial centre that is praised for its cultural diversity and inclusiveness, freedom of expression and robust rule of law. For the past 17 months it has captured the attention of the world as millions of ordinary Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest a controversial extradition bill, which, over time, became a protest movement about the basic rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people. Sadly, the just and legal demands of Hong Kongers have been met with local officials' indifference, suppression, arrests and breathtaking police brutality, all directly backed by the central government in Beijing. Since June 2019, Hong Kong police have made around 9,000 arrests related to the protest movement. Among them are over 700 children under the age of 18, including eight elementary school students.
Despite international outcry and criticism, things have only continued to get worse for the people of Hong Kong. On June 30, in nearly complete secrecy and with no regard for internationally recognized legal obligations to the city of Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party forced through a new law of the People's Republic of China on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong's special administrative region. Hereafter I'm going to refer to it as the NSL.
Already the NSL has brought about one of the darkest moments in Hong Kong's history by attacking Hong Kongers' fundamental rights and freedoms. The NSL has carved out unprecedented space for CCP leadership to deliver and systematically impose its rule in Hong Kong. They have wasted no time in using it to arrest activists in the street, disqualify pro-democracy politicians, dismiss tenured academics, and just yesterday challenge the voice of critical media outlets.
In spite of these heavy-handed and often violent actions, Hong Kong citizens have not simply or quietly given up their rights. Last November, amid a record turnout, pro-democracy candidates won in 17 out of 18 district elections. Since then, Hong Kongers have turned to the international community to take action, actuating their international networks, including those here in Canada, to encourage governments around the world to take a stand, whether by cancelling extradition agreements with Hong Kong or by calling on the United Nations to launch an investigation. Just last month, over 600,000 citizens once again took to the polls to support pro-democracy candidates in the Legislative Council election primaries. Then, in a shocking display of disregard for the legally guaranteed rights of Hong Kongers, and demonstrating the extent of Beijing's fears, the chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced that the Legislative Council elections would be delayed for a full year.
It is crucial that the governments around the world recognize that the CCP's actions stand in absolute conflict with the existing local and international laws and norms. The NSL directly contradicts parts of Hong Kong's basic law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance. Furthermore, the provisions of the NSL also conflict with China's obligations under international law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The NSL also takes the unprecedented step of asserting jurisdiction over citizens of other countries. Therefore, it is not just Hong Kong's legal institutions that are under attack; Beijing has also challenged the international legal system with its authoritarian overreach.
There is much that the international community can do in response. First and foremost, it can take steps to protect Hong Kongers who are seeking to resettle themselves and their families. Since May, thousands of Hong Kongers have applied for foreign immigration documents, seeking safety and protection in third countries, including Canada. This includes a large number of students and young activists who are alarmed at the Hong Kong government's effort to impose so-called “patriotic education” and other nationalistic initiatives that challenge Hong Kong's academic freedom and cultural and political diversity.
After the arrest of Jimmy Lai just days ago, Hong Kongers are also rightly concerned that the CCP will begin rolling out the censorship and surveillance machines it has perfected in East Turkestan, which the CCP refers to as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
It is incumbent upon international communities to consider other measures that might be undertaken to protect the future of democracy, freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong. Without such support, as the events over the last few days have shown, the shadow of authoritarian rule will continue to grow in ways that are all too familiar to those who have already suffered the CCP's coercion and repression, like us from the Uighur community.
Here at the National Endowment for Democracy, we believe in the rights of all people to freely determine their government, one that ensures freedom of expression, belief, and association; respects the fundamental rights of individuals and minorities; promotes a free press; and supports meaningful access to justice. We also believe that the actions of the Chinese government speak for themselves, whether in its denial of basic rights and freedoms for its people or its abuse of authority to breach legal commitments in Hong Kong.
We urge the Canadian government to stand with other nations to condemn the CCP's abrogation of the rights of Hong Kongers and violations of the integrity of international legal order.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I know that you're taking on very important work in studying the Canada-China relationship, and I'm honoured to be here to speak with this committee today.
I've overseen all of Human Rights Watch's work on China since joining the organization in 2006. Throughout that period, we've enjoyed a strong collaboration with Canadian officials in Beijing, Hong Kong and Ottawa. I only wish that there had been progressively less to talk about, but unfortunately the opposite is true. Now we grapple with human rights violations of an unprecedented scope and scale, not only inside the mainland, such as those ongoing against Uighurs and Tibetans, but increasingly outside the country, including Beijing's efforts to undermine the very international institutions we all rely on to protect human rights around the world. Indeed, the Chinese government has generated threats to human rights in Canada.
We're here today to discuss Beijing's unprecedented assault on the human rights of seven million Hong Kong people. The Chinese authority's decision to impose so-called national security legislation on Hong Kong violates the basic law of the territory's functional constitution and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed but not ratified, and to which Hong Kong is a party.
From one minute to the next, on June 30 the Hong Kong people were robbed of their rights to peaceful assembly, expression and political participation, and of the promise of having one country and two systems until at least 2047. The national security law's vague and overbroad provisions are devastating to human rights, not least through creating specialized secret security agencies, denying fair trial rights and periodic elections, providing sweeping new powers to the police, increasing restraints on civil society and the media and weakening judicial oversight.
In Human Rights Watch's view, this is a law that has nothing to do with security. It is a road map for repression. The developments of just the past 24 hours, with the arrest of Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai and pro-democracy activists, including Agnes Chow, under the NSL, make that reality starkly clear.
We thank Canada for its public concerns about the NSL, its efforts to coordinate that view with like-minded governments and its swift suspension of the extradition treaty with Hong Kong. We also want to thank Canada for its efforts at the Human Rights Council in calling on Chinese authorities to end violations against human rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities, among other issues.
However, the very existence of the national security law shows that many governments' efforts are unfortunately not enough. It is not only imperative to call out Beijing's violations, but also critically and urgently important to put an end to the extraordinary sense of impunity Beijing continues to enjoy for state-sponsored human rights violations.
To that end, we urge Canada, first and foremost, to publicly and unequivocally state that Canada will not co-operate with or enable the NSL's extraterritorial application or co-operate with Hong Kong police requests for information concerning those accused of national security crimes. Canada should swiftly adopt mechanisms to enable people from Hong Kong to find safe haven in Canada and should ensure that Hong Kong activists who relocated to Canada can continue their activism safely and without harassment from the Chinese government, including by any overseas United Front initiatives.
Canada can urgently augment the capabilities of its consulate in Hong Kong to monitor human rights violations and the impact of the NSL, and it can increase support for human rights groups, independent local media and Internet freedom.
Canada can also impose targeted sanctions on the Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in drafting, adopting and implementing the law, who thereby violated core human rights as laid down in international law. It can ensure Internet service providers refuse to co-operate with Hong Kong police force requests on providing, removing or limiting online expressions of political views, and it can ensure companies limit export to the Hong Kong police force of equipment or technology and technical support that can be used for intercepting personal communication or conducting surveillance.
Canada can also engage chambers of commerce and other industry associations to reaffirm support for the respect of human rights, the rule of law and civic participation, and communicate publicly the social, financial and operational risks presented by the law.
I want to particularly stress two last recommendations.
As Alex mentioned earlier, one is support for the late-June call by 50 United Nations human rights experts to hold a special session on China at the Human Rights Council and establish a new monitoring mechanism on China. These are the kinds of steps that will help puncture the expectation of impunity on Beijing's part.
I would also like to urge the government to think about creating a cabinet-level position to coordinate, develop and implement China policy. This is no longer an issue that fits solely and neatly in the traditional bailiwicks of foreign affairs or trade. Increasingly, we see threats to academic freedom. We see to the diaspora community. We see concerns across immigration matters. These are not terribly well integrated. This is not a recommendation we would only make to the Government of Canada, but I think this is a particular moment at which the creation of such a position would resonate, both in Beijing and in Hong Kong, but also for citizens across Canada.
We are aware that Chinese authorities place pressure on other governments and businesses to stay silent about human rights violations such as those posed by the NSL, but the importance of ensuring respect for the human rights of seven million Hong Kong people is undeniable. Violations of rights on this scale and severity require steadfastness and perseverance. By actively taking steps to help the Hong Kong people and to raise the price on rights-violating officials in Beijing and Hong Kong, Canada can help mitigate repression both now and in the future. We urge you to do so in coordination with like-minded governments to create more leverage.
We thank you for this opportunity to speak with you, and I welcome any questions you may have.
Thank you to all the witnesses for coming to the committee to speak about the issue of Hong Kong and China in relation to Canada.
As a newly elected MP, I was invited to go to Hong Kong on a district council election observer mission in November 2019, and we produced a report that had some positive feedback for the Hong Kong government. We were pleased to witness the exercising of democracy. In that district election, the people in Hong Kong came out profoundly and decisively on the side of democracy. As somebody who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Canada, it is quite satisfying for me to see democracy in practice.
Fast-forward to 2020, where we are today, and we see that all sectors in Hong Kong are under the dark shadow of fear, including the press. Through Apple Daily, for example, freedom of speech was jeopardized. The Foreign Correspondents' Club issued a very critical statement against the NSL and the arrest of Mr. Jimmy Lai. People could be arrested for singing certain songs or yelling particular slogans, so freedom of expression is also jeopardized. Their association with freedom of expression is also being harmed. They willy-nilly disqualify political leaders and even legislators, based on their opinions.
There is definitely a dark shadow of fear being cast over Hong Kong. However, in Canada, and also in the rest of the world, I would argue there is also an opaque white fear that is being cast. We see that the Hong Kong NSL has also charged U.S. citizen Samuel Chu, who has been overseas for 25 years. He is one of their accused. I have constituents in my riding who presented a petition advocating that the Government of Canada exercise the Magnitsky act in sanctioning China or Hong Kong. He would be under the same cloud as well.
What would you suggest Canadian governments do to safeguard Canadians' safety, regardless of their ethnicity? We know that in 2006 Uighur Canadian Huseyin Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan, but extradited to China. We also have the two Michaels who are being arbitrarily held. What would you suggest Canada do to effectively warn Canadian citizens?
I've just checked the travel warnings on the Government of Canada travel website, and it's warning Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution. How do we know they would not get arrested? How do we know, en route, they would not get arbitrarily extradited to China?
Ms. Richardson, Mr. Neve and Mr. Keram, please respond.
I haven't gotten around to a title yet. I promise to follow up on that.
I think the idea really is reflected in many threads of our conversation here. We are no longer just talking about human rights violations in Hong Kong, the threats that Uighurs face or the challenges for civil society in China. We are also talking about the kinds of abuses that take place as a result of Chinese government policy or action in other countries, including Canada.
There isn't a focal point in the Canadian government or any other. Let me be clear: This isn't a criticism of Canada and it's not a suggestion that we would make to only Canada. It's one that we'll be driving with a number of different governments, especially for the governments that have incredibly complex, deep, thick ties, not just with the Chinese government, but those that have communities of people who are of Chinese descent or people who are interested in China.
I think governments have failed to recognize that those people are under threat and that there are other kinds of threats to people in their own countries as a result of Chinese government policy. As Alex and Amnesty have very eloquently documented—and as we've experienced in taking up certain kinds of issues ourselves—it's very hard for somebody who is standing in Canada, who is experiencing Chinese government harassment, to figure out where they're supposed to go with that. To shrug or pass the buck from one agency to the next is not a gratifying solution and, really, I think the failure to respond only encourages more of this kind of behaviour.
We've done a lot of work about universities in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K., and their capitulations to Chinese government pressure, or it's probably more accurate to say, their failure to stand by their principles of academic freedom and independence when there is significant Chinese government or state-owned enterprise money at issue or when critical revenue streams that come in the form of international students from China are at issue. There is a lot of deferring and saying, well, maybe we'll work this out, or the problem will change over time, which is, I think, generally the problem with lots of governments and their policies with China over the last 20 years. The people have hemmed and hawed and hedged and did not really grapple with the fact that this is a highly abusive authoritarian regime that does not keep abuses at home and that is increasingly carrying out these operations overseas, including weakening the institutions that protect rights worldwide.
I would envision a system that pulls all these threads together and looks at domestic, bilateral and multilateral responses to all of these different kinds of problems.