Welcome to meeting number three of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Pursuant to the motion adopted on Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study of Canada-China relations.
Unless there are any objections from committee members, I'm going to dispense with some of the technical information about how these meetings proceed in a hybrid format and proceed directly to welcoming the consul general of Canada in Hong Kong and Macao, Mr. Jeff Nankivell.
We are having a technical problem with interpretation at the moment. Normally we would have five minutes for the statement, but we'll have effectively five minutes for both official languages. Because we're still resolving these technical issues, we will have to briefly suspend the meeting after the opening statement. We will reconvene the meeting once interpretation is functioning for the question and answer.
Mr. Nankivell, thank you for your service to Canada and for your flexibility today especially.
Mr. Chair, Hong Kong is home to a large Canadian community. The ties with Canada are broad and deep.
In the past 18 months, this city of such importance to Canada has experienced dramatic political, social and legal change. Throughout this period, the Government of Canada, including our team of 150 staff at the Consulate General of Canada, has worked with a particular focus in two areas.
One is raising Canada's concerns about threats to the integrity of Hong Kong's institutions, human rights and rule of law under the one country, two systems framework. The other is attending to the well-being of Hong Kong's huge community of Canadian citizens to ensure that their safety, freedom and ability to prosper are maintained.
The committee has already heard extensively about Hong Kongers standing up for their human rights during seven months of extraordinary demonstrations in 2019. You've also heard how the national security law was imposed on Hong Kong by China’s National People's Congress in a secretive process fundamentally at odds with common law principles.
Canada and other countries have noted that the law contravenes Hong Kong's Basic Law, China's treaty obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong's commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The committee has heard about deeply concerning aspects of the new law from leading legal experts. The Government of Canada shares their concerns, and I would be happy to elaborate.
In response to the imposition and implementation of the national security law, Canada has taken a number of actions, including the following.
First, we updated our travel advice for Hong Kong to warn of the new risk of arbitrary detention and possible removal to mainland China on national security grounds. Each time this advice is updated, we email the Canadians on our consular registration list and publicize the advice through our consulate Facebook page, which now has over 49,000 followers, and through extensive presentations to Canadian community organizations.
Second, Canada was the first of nine countries to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Third, Canada’s export controls were amended on July 7 to treat the export of sensitive goods to Hong Kong in the same manner as goods destined for mainland China.
Fourth, working closely with like-minded countries in Hong Kong, in Beijing, across capitals and at the United Nations, Canada has issued a series of statements on Hong Kong, at the level of minister or higher. There's been at least one such high-level statement every month from April through August, and again in October.
We have also consistently raised these concerns directly, in private and public meetings, with representatives of the Hong Kong government and with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Hong Kong and Ottawa. In doing so, we have at every opportunity also called for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and clemency for Robert Schellenberg, and have questioned publicly whether such arbitrary actions in mainland China could happen in Hong Kong under the National Security Law.
We continue to engage with local civil society organizations, political leaders, activists, legal experts, academics and journalists to gather their views on the local situation. We also continue to work to advance Canadian human rights priorities and values through local programming, as we have done for many years.
Consulate General staff have also attended key court hearings of pro-democracy activists and political leaders, in coordination with colleagues from the European Union.
In terms of engaging and assisting Canadians, I would add that since the outset of last year’s period of civil unrest, we have undertaken a range of actions to address the risks faced by Canadians. We provided direct consular assistance to Canadians. Since June 2019, our team has responded to 204 requests for consular service arising from the civil unrest, ranging from simple enquiries to visits to Canadians in hospital and in prison.
As the civil unrest became widespread in July 2019, and with the assistance of Global Affairs Canada's emergency-planning experts, the Consulate General built on our evergreen emergency-response plans to prepare detailed plans for new contingencies that could arise. We also brought in staff from around the world on temporary assignments to provide surge support during the peak period of the civil unrest.
We regularly advised Canadians in Hong Kong on the possibility of large-scale street clashes, and shared those messages proactively through our registration of Canadians abroad and social media channels. Throughout this 18-month period, and with a renewed push since the advent of the National Security Law, we have engaged with the Canadian business community, both with individual companies and with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, to share perspectives on the evolving situation and to see how our trade commissioner service could be of assistance to them.
I look forward to providing greater detail on these and any other issues of interest to the committee.
I thank you for inviting me.
Hong Kong affairs are a concern to Canada. To suggest otherwise ignores the fact that when a state like China enters into international treaties, they give up some of their sovereignty. In 1984 the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom signed the joint declaration, which came into effect in 1997 for 50 years. The joint declaration is not simply a bilateral treaty. It was also registered at the United Nations and Canada was a witness to that registration. As a result, Canada has an obligation to ensure this international treaty is upheld, which is currently not the case. My questions are made in light of that fact.
Recently, a U.S. citizen sought help at the American consulate in Hong Kong, was forced out and then subsequently arrested by Hong Kong police. In September, Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Mike Smith got out of China after a five-day diplomatic standoff after seeking refuge in their embassy in Beijing.
Mr. Nankivell, what plans does the consulate have if a Canadian citizen involved in Hong Kong activism seeks protection at the consulate? Has anyone tried to claim asylum at the consulate?
Thank you for that answer.
You mentioned in your opening statement and we know that recently the government changed its travel advice on Hong Kong. They've cancelled the extradition treaty, and they've banned certain exports to Hong Kong. What other changes has the consulate made with respect to its activities in Hong Kong?
For example, are you still engaged in activities that promote Hong Kong, as you did perhaps five years ago, as a place that upholds the rule of law, upholds freedom or democratic systems, or have you changed that approach in light of the fact that the government has made it clear that China is not upholding its commitment to the one country, two systems? In other words, have you significantly changed your position in Hong Kong with respect to what you might have done five or 10 years ago?
This is an issue that we definitely grapple with, not only in Hong Kong but in other places.
That estimate of 300,000, which is very widely quoted, is based on survey data. It's based on a survey that was done 10 years ago, commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. It was a rigorous telephone survey done by polling professionals. That's the basis of that estimate.
It's not based on the number of Canadians who are registered with us. Only a fraction of Canadians who go abroad register with us online. We don't have a way of tracking Canadian citizens who live in other countries if they don't identify themselves to us. That's why, from time to time, we would make a special effort or take advantage of something like the Asia Pacific Foundation's survey.
What I can say is that, in the time since that survey was done in 2010, we've seen the rate of Canadians renewing their passports in Hong Kong actually grow. In the five-year period from 2012 to 2017, the number of Canadians renewing their passports was about 20% higher than it was in the five years before the survey was done. That would lead us to conclude that the number that was there in 2010—and the survey estimated conservatively about 295,000—is probably about the same or more today.
Thank you very much, Mr. Nankivell, for being with us at such a late hour. We are very grateful to you, especially since we had a number of technical problems, which you had to experience with us despite the late hour.
I offer you my compliments for the quality of your French and for the attention you have paid to the work of this committee since the beginning. Since you have been attentive to the work of this committee, you are certainly aware that we have decided to proceed with an interim report, particularly in response to this urgent request we received to possibly welcome dissidents from Hong Kong who would need a refuge, given the application of the National Security Law.
The ambassador of the People's Republic of China, in a statement he made on October 15, warned Canada about the possible hosting of dissidents on its territory. We sense that the government of the People's Republic of China is putting pressure on all western democracies to refrain from hosting dissidents on their territory. The Federal Republic of Germany welcomed one dissident, which led to its representatives being admonished by the Hong Kong authorities that this was not the way to go.
In the circumstances, I cannot make assumptions as to the conclusions of this committee, but since it is likely that this committee will recommend to the Canadian government that dissidents from Hong Kong be welcomed and that mechanisms be put in place to allow them to find refuge in Canada, is there any preparation on your part for this eventuality, despite the pressure from the Hong Kong authorities and the People's Republic of China?
The global policy of Canada, similar to most other countries, is that our diplomatic missions, including consulates, do not accept applications of asylum at our offices from people who are in their own territory.
There are avenues to become accepted as a refugee in Canada, but they involve making a claim in a third country or, for people who are already in Canada, making a claim for asylum, which, as the committee knows, some people from Hong Kong have done in recent times.
People who present themselves at the door to make a claim—and we haven't had any yet, as I've mentioned—we would provide them with the information about how the system works in Canada but we're not in a position to welcome them inside or to accept a claim from them, as they are in their own territory.
In terms of policies that are under consideration, again I will have to be a bit cautious. In the elaboration of policies, of course, preparatory work would be part of that process to make sure we have the resources in place. The immigration section we have in our office in Hong Kong is one of the largest we have anywhere in the world. It's currently processing files for missions in other parts of the world that are unable to do their work properly because of COVID, places in Africa and South Asia, so we have a lot of capacity on the ground. We have 60 people in our immigration section and they're flexible to be able to do different things.
Thank you, Mr. Nankivell, for coming this morning and for your very comprehensive remarks.
First I would like to associate myself with Mr. Chong's opening remarks about the set-up of the 1984 United Kingdom-People's Republic of China treaty and merely add that not only did Canada witness it, but Canada, among other countries, was also asked by the parties, including the People's Republic of China, to provide their help and assistance in assuring the success of the one country, two systems agreement. There is an invitation there for Canada to be involved in ensuring its success, and that obviously includes some of the things we're doing now.
First of all, about the 300,000 Canadians we talk about from time to time, as you say, it is a larger portion than those who have identified themselves to the consulate. When we're talking about Canadians in that context, are we talking about people who are Canadians who have gone to China to live or could that include long-term residents of Hong Kong who hold dual citizenship?
Mr. Nankivell, you won't be surprised to see me continuing in exactly the same vein as a few moments ago.
Among the western democracies, apart from the Federal Republic of Germany, as I mentioned earlier, the United Kingdom has suggested that it has set up some kind of migration mechanism for Hong Kong residents. However, as far as we understand it, this would mainly be aimed at people born before the 1997 handover. This means that most of the protesters, who are young people under 23 years of age, would not be eligible for refuge in the U.K.
Contrary to the very audible discourse against the Chinese regime, we saw the United States announcing from the outset that all asylum applications had to be made on American territory. It is therefore not possible—Mr. Chong alluded to this—to proceed through the consulate in Hong Kong.
Given the very close ties Canada and Hong Kong have had for many years, at least since World War II when Canadian soldiers defended Hong Kong's territorial integrity, should Canada not effectively consider, like other western democracies such as the Federal Republic of Germany, providing safe haven for human rights protesters in Hong Kong?
Thank you, Mr. Nankivell.
Colleagues, at this point I'll proceed to suspend for the vote.
We have been informed by the House administration that we can have resources available to us to use between the conclusion of the vote and the beginning of statements by members, so we will suspend now. I'll consult with our regular chair, who I believe will be available, as to whether we will continue with some additional questions for Mr. Nankivell or whether we will proceed to committee business.
Just watch your emails with respect to that, whether we'll be convening in camera or in public.
Mr. Nankivell, thank you so much for your time and your testimony. Maybe we'll be hearing more from you, or maybe we won't, but if we're not able to reconvene with you, then I think members would be grateful if you could follow up in writing on some of the points we ran out of time on.
With that, the committee stands suspended. Thank you very much.
[Proceedings continue in camera]