I call meeting 13 of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to order. Before we go further into the meeting, I want to talk about the public health precautions we all need to take.
Public health authorities have recommended the following practices for all those attending the meeting in person to remain healthy and safe. Please maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from others. Wear a non-medical mask when moving in the meeting room, and preferably, wear a mask at all times, including when you are seated. Maintain proper hand hygiene by using the provided hand sanitizers at the room entrance and washing your hands well with soap regularly.
As the chair, I will be enforcing these measures for the duration of the meeting. I thank members in advance for their co-operation.
Welcome, all, to meeting number 13 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the first meeting for the year 2021. We hope and pray that this year will be a better year for all of us.
First on the agenda is the adoption of the report of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure. The report was circulated to all the members in December. It has also been circulated to Mr. Genuis.
Can I have the motion for the committee to adopt the report in order to ratify the motions adopted by the subcommittee? Can I have a motion?
I would like to make the committee aware that since we met about a month ago in subcommittee to decide this report, there have been significant developments in Hong Kong.
Just in case the committee is not aware, we recently learned from John Ivison in The National Post that the Hong Kong government is forcing dual Hong Kong citizens to choose one nationality over the other. This brings considerable issues for those looking to renounce their Canadian citizenship if they so choose, limiting consular access to them. If they don't, that could jeopardize their livelihood and their right to live in Hong Kong.
The second thing we've seen is the arrest of 53 pro-democracy activists. Many of them were candidates in opposition parties and organizers therein. Both these matters have come to light in January, since we discussed this report.
In light of this increasingly dire situation, I believe that an amendment to this report is in order. I would like to move the following amendment. I would recommend that we amend section 1 of the report to include the following: That, regarding the study of special immigration and refugee measures for the people of Hong Kong, the committee invite government officials to appear for one hour, the minister to appear for one hour, and invite witnesses to appear for six hours. That is my amendment to the report.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the important work of this committee.
I just want to speak in support of my colleague Ms. Dancho's amendment. There's a real crisis in terms of the well-being of Canadians in Hong Kong, and the threats that exist. We have heard in other places in the House that the government is contemplating the possibility of having to put in place emergency measures to bring back hundreds of thousands of Canadians in a very short time.
I think three hours of study on that large issue, which affects the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, at a critical turning point in global human rights of whether the Government of China will be able to undermine Hong Kong's freedoms.... There are so many critical issues that go into that. I would hope that members of all parties are supportive of the principle of giving this proper study. I think what my colleague has proposed—having six hours instead of a mere three so that we can hear witnesses answer the important questions that are at play—is very much worthwhile.
I want to express my strong support for the amendment. I hope that other parties will agree that we need to properly study both the situation in Hong Kong as it relates to the rights of Canadians and the response in terms of immigration measures here in Canada. Thanks.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I too would like to support this amendment. Given the rapidly changing situation in Hong Kong, and the urgency of the situation, I do think that it would be worthwhile for us to spend time with respect to the study.
The other issue that I think is related to this, of course, is the issue around the VFS Global contracts. Members might have picked up this news as well. VFS is a company contracted by the Government of Canada to process immigration applications in visa application centres abroad. It has been brought to light that the parent company of VFS Global is backed by a subsidiary of the state-owned China Investment Corporation. The implications around this involvement and these investments raise, I think, serious concerns around the security of the information handled by VFS.
As members know, oftentimes immigration processes are detailed and extensive. They deal with a lot of sensitive information. It has been brought to light and reported that at least one major security breach has already occurred with respect to personal data. It was also noted in the media report that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has no record of the Government of Canada ever being notified.
The Canadian government at this juncture is, I believe, reviewing the extension of these contracts. I think it would be worthwhile for us to look into this as we proceed with this study, particularly for its implications for the people of Hong Kong.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I have read my colleague Ms. Dancho's amendment. I would have liked for it to have been translated beforehand.
That said, I do not disagree with the substance of the amendment, as I think it is always good to get to the bottom of things and to have the time to discuss important issues, especially taking into account the developments that were just announced. However, I would have liked to be able to discuss the impact of this amendment on other studies, which are just as important. They focus on different matters, but they are still not futile. We also need to figure out when we will consider the reports.
Next Monday, we will return to the study on special measures for Hong Kong residents. I know we have lost some time because of the votes, but would Monday be a good time to discuss the amendment? We must have enough time to get to the bottom of things and to get an idea of the upcoming calendar. I would like us to spend a little time on it.
Would my colleague agree with us voting on her amendment next Monday?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to endorse what my colleague Ms. Normandin proposed regarding the amendment moved by Ms. Dancho today. We all agree with getting to the bottom of things, given the latest news. However, there are already witnesses here who are waiting to speak.
We could take a moment to discuss it and vote on the amendment at the next meeting, on Monday. That would also give us time to discuss it. We will find common ground [Technical difficulties].
We are here today to hear from witnesses. Yet we are spending a lot of time on an amendment that could have been sent to us before....
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to my colleagues for their comments.
I just have to rebut that a little bit. I don't see the amendment as being overly complicated. We're just adding one hour for the ministers and bumping up from three to six hours for witnesses. It's not overly complicated.
Given that we're on committee business now, we can vote on this right now. Members themselves have said they believe this is important, given the recent very alarming development. Really, I think we should vote on this amendment now while we're in committee business and get this done so we can get in more witnesses and move forward. It's not an overly complicated amendment.
I just want to say that if we do support the people of Hong Kong, if we do stand with Hong Kong and recognize the importance of the Department of Immigration regarding the 300,000 Canadians who are in jeopardy in Hong Kong and their family members, in my opinion this should be a no-brainer, particularly for the to come as well and to get more expert witnesses.
I would move to vote on the amendment.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Regarding my colleague's comments, I think it is important to clarify that we have no intention of preventing the minister's appearance before the committee. I think that Ms. Dancho is imputing to us motives we do not have. It is 5:39 p.m., and witnesses have been waiting to testify for 30 minutes. Their testimony is about an issue we all agreed on in December as part of a study that seems extremely important to us.
I would like the clerk to clarify something. Would it be possible to postpone the adopting of the subcommittee's report until next Monday, so that we could have the time to discuss Ms. Dancho's amendment, which was put forward today, and so that we could undertake the study we all agreed upon last December? We could hear from the witnesses who are with us.
In the context of this study that everyone seems to consider important, I don't think partisanship on this matter should exist.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I wasn't aware of the motion either. It was the first I heard of it when Ms. Dancho moved it. But in light of the situation that's going on in Hong Kong, I thought that was a good amendment, and I certainly would support it. Of course, as mentioned, the VFS issue has also surfaced since December. It was brought to my attention in December, so I thought it would be worthwhile for us to look at these issues in this study.
With that being said, if I'm understanding correctly from the clerk, while he's investigating the question about the adjournment of the debate on the amendment related to the subcommittee report, while he's sorting out the answer to that—
My suggestion to the committee would be that we hear from the first panel and give the second panel a full hour. My suggestion is that we reduce the time for the officials. Whenever we can start, we proceed with hearing from the panel of officials and end this panel at 6:10, and then proceed to the second panel from 6:10 to 7:10. We can only have the committee meeting until 7:10. It's a full two-hour meeting.
We will now proceed. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee is meeting on a study of immigration and refugee measures for the people of Hong Kong.
Today's meeting is taking place in the hybrid virtual format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021, and therefore members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available.
You may speak in the language of your choice. You will also notice that the “raise hand” feature is now in a more easily accessible location on the middle toolbar, should you wish to speak or alert the chair. All members participating in person can proceed as they usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in a committee room.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. I remind you that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. When you are not speaking, your microphone should be on mute.
With regard to the speakers list, the committee clerk and I will do our best to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members, whether they are participating virtually or in person.
With that, I would like to welcome our witnesses for the first panel.
We have officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration appearing before us today. For the first panel, we have Natasha Kim, associate assistant deputy minister, strategic and program policy. We are also joined by Nicole Giles, associate assistant deputy minister, operations.
Welcome. Thank you for appearing before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration today. I'm sorry for the delay.
You will have five minutes for your opening remarks.
Please proceed. The floor is yours.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for asking us to join you today.
We are here today to update you on measures that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is taking to support Hong Kong residents, including youth, to come to Canada.
As you are aware, the Government of Canada has joined the international community in expressing its concerns over China's imposition of new national security legislation on Hong Kong.
On November 12, 2020, , in response to the situation, announced new immigration measures. These included measures to encourage Hong Kong youth to choose Canada as a place to study, work and settle, given the skills and education that many of them would bring to support our economy.
Let me note that Canada already has an extensive array of pathways that Hong Kong residents can use to come to Canada either temporarily or permanently, including for work, to study, for permanent immigration or for family reunification.
In addition to the existing options, the department is implementing a new initiative specific to Hong Kong youth, which will provide open work permits of up to three years, with eligibility centred on post-secondary education obtained in Canada or abroad. IRCC is working hard to ensure that this measure will be available in early 2021 to applicants from Hong Kong who are both in Canada and abroad.
In addition, the department is creating two new pathways to permanent residence, available later this year, for those who come under the first initiative or who are already in Canada and have been working or studying.
The first pathway will target former Hong Kong residents who have gained a minimum of one year of authorized work experience in Canada and who meet other criteria, such as minimum language and education levels.
The second pathway will benefit those who have graduated from a post-secondary institution in Canada. These individuals will be able to apply directly for permanent residence and will not require work experience.
In addition to these new measures, Canada is also introducing measures such as priority processing of documents for Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents in Hong Kong and allocating resources to speed up processing of applications, including family sponsorship.
We do, however, understand the impact that the current border restrictions could have on when some groups are able to travel.
For Hong Kong residents already in Canada on a temporary basis, we are waiving application processing fees for those who apply to renew their status in order to extend their stay here.
I would also like to note that Hong Kong residents who are already in Canada continue to have access to our asylum system, including to make their case to the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Given the change in circumstances in Hong Kong, we have also eliminated the 12-month PRRA bar, the pre-removal risk assessment bar, for Hong Kong nationals. Under normal circumstances, individuals who received a negative decision on their refugee claim would not be eligible to apply for a PRRA for at least 12 months.
Finally, Madam Chair, I should note that individuals who flee Hong Kong and fear persecution may be referred to Canada for resettlement by the United Nations refugee agency or may be privately sponsored.
As per the 1951 refugee convention and Canadian legislation, foreign nationals need to be outside their home country to be eligible for our resettlement program. As a result, we cannot accept asylum claims at the mission in the country of alleged persecution. This is consistent with the international legal framework that takes into account state sovereignty.
However, to complement resettlement efforts, Canada—like other countries—relies on diplomatic and international aid efforts to support those in need around the globe.
Moreover, it is important to note that those facing persecution can also avail themselves of regular immigration pathways, if they are able to.
My apologies, Madam Chair, and my apologies to the interpreters as well.
This would include those new measures that I spoke about earlier in my remarks.
Madam Chair, the measures announced by the government in November expand opportunities for those who wish to leave Hong Kong, and complement the measures announced by our allies. In doing so, they demonstrate that Canada stands with the people of Hong Kong.
We appreciate this opportunity to outline this important work.
We would now be happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Kim, for being here today.
Ms. Kim, on November 16, I believe, when we last spoke at the Canada-China committee, you said, “The permanent resident pathways are expected in 2021. We're aiming to have the open work permit temporary pathway in place by the end of the year.”
Do you have any updates as to when the permanent resident pathways will be open? Did they, in fact, open before the end of the last calendar year?
I apologize if you hear me breathing as a result.
Pardon me, Ms. Kim.
Regarding the parents and grandparents lottery, it was announced last fall to have 10,000 folks from around the world come and join their families in Canada. It was sort of positioned by the minister and others as a bit of a solution to what they're facing in Hong Kong.
My understanding is that with regard to all of the 10,000 applicants who were approved, their families in Canada were notified on January 5, or around that date.
Can you tell the committee how many grandparents and parents were approved from Hong Kong?
I'll begin with the first part of the question, regarding the pathways that are available, particularly for those in Hong Kong. I would add the layer of who can currently travel under the existing COVID-19 travel restrictions, because that is an important consideration as well.
Certainly, anyone who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and who is in Hong Kong can return at any time and is exempt from the travel restrictions. IRCC in Hong Kong is available to provide travel documents and passports in that case.
Also, there are existing work and study programs. If there is someone who has a work permit and a valid job offer, that person can be exempt from the current travel restrictions. Someone can study at a Canadian institution if that institution has a COVID-19 readiness plan that's been approved by the province or territory, so with those permits they can enter Canada.
We also have existing economic permanent resident streams, as well as our humanitarian streams. If someone was approved before March 18, under the current travel restrictions they could also enter. As many of you know, family reunification streams are also available. This can be sponsorship of a spouse or a parent or grandparent. People can also come on a temporary status, whether that's on an eTA or on a super visa.
With these new measures, these would be additional measures available to Hong Kong residents in order to come to Canada, if they also meet exemptions in the travel restrictions. Of course, anyone coming into Canada at this time would have to abide by public health requirements in terms of quarantine and pre-testing before boarding a plane.
To those who are here and can stay, we've offered a few waivers for them to extend their stay or to restore their status. There are also measures for visitors here to apply for a work permit within Canada.
I believe the second part of the question was about the number of immigrants we are looking forward to over the next three years. The Government of Canada tabled the immigration levels plan last fall. Some 401,000 new permanent residents are targeted for 2021, and it goes up to 411,000 next year. This is something we are working on at IRCC.
Ms. Kim, I will put two questions to you at the same time to give you time to answer them.
The current immigration system has a number of economic immigration programs to bring immigrants to Canada. The government has studied those programs' objectives in great detail. Can Hong Kong residents access those programs in addition to the special measures? Can it be deduced that the special measures for Hong Kong residents were developed for reasons beyond economic objectives? That is my first question.
Can you also quickly provide the international context as it relates to immigration measures for Hong Kong residents? How do Canada's measure compare to them, and what considerations have been used to standardize the measures, especially between Canada and the United Kingdom?
Thank you very much for answering our questions, Ms. Kim.
I would like to begin by discussing the situation of people who are currently in Hong Kong and who the government would like to come to Canada.
My colleague Ms. Dancho placed a question on the order of paper concerning electronic travel authorizations, or ETAs, for which certain criteria must be met, including the criterion whereby applicants must not have a criminal history. The question was raised because, in certain cases, Hong Kong residents were charged with an offence under the Hong Kong national security law. However, according to what I understand, no directive has been given to officers as far as criminal history goes.
So I would like to know whether, going forward, you plan to potentially ensure that charges laid in Hong Kong would not be a criterion for not authorizing the issuing of an ETA.
Thank you for the question.
Canadian immigration officers are trained to consider applications on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, for crimes committed outside Canada, an immigration officer must determine whether the same act, if it occurred in Canada, would be considered a crime in Canada. As part of this, we examine what the underlying action was. For example, a person who was arrested or charged for peacefully demonstrating or being at a protest would not be inadmissible, as those actions are not considered crimes in Canada. Similarly, being part of a mass arrest would not automatically lead an immigration officer to approve or refuse an application.
We provide program guidance regularly to our officers all across the globe, including in Hong Kong. That program guidance reflects changes in risk considerations and also provides information on local and regional contexts in certain circumstances. Our officers also receive regular and ongoing training on these and other matters.
Okay, so even numbers are not being disclosed.
I just highlight this as an issue because minister's permits were utilized during the Tiananmen Square situation. In fact, they were used quite regularly by the ministry then. I'm wondering whether or not they are being utilized at this time. I do think that it is important to actually adopt some of those measures that were utilized during that time because there are similarities in terms of the risks for the people of Hong Kong at this point.
As well, related to the H and C stream, back in the Tiananmen Square situation, it was clearly indicated, “all persons who have in some way individually embarrassed their government and in so doing have exposed themselves to severe sanctions should they return.” Those were the instructions that were given to officials then to consider H and C applications. Have there been any special instructions given by IRCC for consideration of H and C applications for the people of Hong Kong?
I call the meeting to order.
I welcome our witnesses in the second panel to today's study on immigration and refugee measures for the people of Hong Kong.
For this panel, we have with us Avvy Go, clinic director, representing the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. Welcome, Ms. Go.
We are also joined by Eric Li, vice-president of Canada-Hong Kong Link. Welcome, Mr. Li.
As mentioned, I'm the clinic director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. I'm also a board member of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, TADC.
I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to comment on the new immigration measures to support Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.
Since the announcement by in November 2020, we have seen more arrests being made by the Hong Kong government. On January 5, the Hong Kong police arrested 50 former lawmakers and activists for allegedly violating the national security law. Their only crime was to organize unofficial election primaries for Hong Kong. More than 600,000 Hong Kongers participated in this electoral exercise, despite warnings from Beijing not to do so.
The continuing arrests of pro-democracy activists confirm our fear that no one is safe in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong police could and would, without warning and without cause, arrest anyone on suspicion of violating the national security law.
Activists have become sitting ducks, as their liberty can be taken away any time. We have heard reports of activists being detained for up to 36 hours in a frigid room as part of the intimidation tactics. Their arrests also allow the police to access the activists' personal contact information and seize their travel documents.
We know that the democracy movement in Hong Kong has been driven to a great extent by the youth. Some of the MPs have commented on that. It's in this context that we examine the special immigration measures that Canada has adopted today.
While the new initiatives will broaden the immigration pathways for some select groups, these measures have fallen short of responding to the worsening climate of white terror and constant surveillance experienced by many activists.
There is also a glaring absence of humanitarian measures to assist those who are most at risk and would not qualify under these measures. For instance, the new open work permit is being offered only to recent university graduates. The criteria would exclude high school students and those who are not university-educated.
Just to put things in perspective, neither Joshua Wong nor Agnes Chow, two of the most prominent activists, would qualify, because they have not yet finished university, nor would a number of Hong Kong activists working in blue-collar jobs who have managed to come here to seek asylum. By failing to recognize the protestors' diverse demographic and educational backgrounds, these measures send the wrong message that Canada's commitment to protect them is limited only to those who will bring immediate economic benefits to our country.
There are some Hong Kong residents, including young students, who are already here. They, along with the dozens of asylum seekers, should be granted permanent residence under a special program similar to the one in place for Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
For protesters who are currently stranded in another country, Canada should allow them immediate entrance under private refugee sponsorship programs or temporary resident permits, with an exemption from the travel ban. TADC and a number of other groups in Canada have offered their assistance to help bring these activists to resettle here. We need our government to put the appropriate programs in place so that we can transform the goodwill that many Canadians have shown towards Hong Kongers into concrete action.
The pandemic has not stopped the oppression of political dissent from happening in Hong Kong or anywhere else. Pro-democracy activists are racing against time and running out of options. That's why we're urging this honourable committee to call on Canada to take immediate action to bring in more Hong Kong residents and grant them permanent status, irrespective of their educational and occupational backgrounds.
Madam Chair and distinguished members of the committee, I thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
My name is Eric Li. I'm the vice-president of Canada-Hong Kong Link. Our group works to protect and promote the furtherance of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Hong Kong.
We commend the Canadian government for announcing the new lifeboat program that will broaden the pathway for selected groups of Hong Kong residents to take refuge in Canada. This is encouraging news, as political persecution is dramatically increasing under Hong Kong's national security law. From our perspective, the lifeboat program is to save Hong Kongers from the unjust and threatening environment that is plaguing Hong Kong. It is not a new immigration policy for people based on their socio-economic status.
However, we are concerned about how the lifeboat program will be applied, that it may not prioritize those who are truly at risk or that it may even be abused by harmful groups in Hong Kong. It is important to distinguish the members of the harmful groups in Hong Kong from using the lifeboat program to infiltrate Canada. By “harmful groups”, I'm referring to groups and individuals who impose threats on Hong Kong's democratic development, such as the groups endorsing Hong Kong's national security law and the Hong Kong police force.
I'd like to show you the demographic of the ordinary citizens who fought for their freedom in Hong Kong. Since June 2019, more than 10,000 people, with ages ranging from 11 to 80-plus, have been arrested. They came from all walks of life and sacrificed their livelihoods to participate in the protests. A large number of youth and protesters suffer from PTSD as a result of the police brutality they endured during their arrests. Those are the people who need our help. They all suffered because they wanted to restore the freedom and the political system they were promised to have until 2047.
We would like to make the following recommendations for your consideration.
First, consider lifting the current essential travel ban for pro-democracy activists who are at risk of persecution because of such activities. They would have to respect each province's COVID-19 guidelines upon arrival.
Second, the open work permit criteria should address the diversity of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in terms of age and educational and occupational backgrounds.
Third, applicants for the open work permit or study permit should be offered a five-year visa with an expedited pathway to permanent resident status, similar to what our Five Eyes allies have offered.
Fourth, we urge the Canadian ministry of foreign affairs and the consular staff in Hong Kong and nearby countries to help arrange emergency travel documents for high-risk activists whose passports have been confiscated and also to help recognize asylum seekers support and allow our community to sponsor them through the existing refugee sponsorship program.
Fifth, Hong Kong international students and temporary skilled workers in Canada, along with political asylum seekers from Hong Kong who are proven to be at risk of political persecution when returning to Hong Kong, should be granted permanent resident status under a fast-tracked and special program.
Sixth, family reunification could be broadened to include siblings and extended family, such as uncles and aunts who can support nephews and nieces. Costs of family reunification could be waived for those fleeing persecution.
Seventh, since the lifeboat program is designed for those fleeing persecution in Hong Kong, applicants should sign a declaration that they did not have gross misconduct on hindering the democracy movement in Hong Kong. The consequence of a false declaration will result in deportation from Canada. This recommendation will safeguard that the lifeboat program will serve the intended group of Hong Kongers.
Eighth, Hong Kong police and immigration officers should be excluded from the lifeboat program, unless they are subject to serious vetting by CSIS or the RCMP and it's proven they were not involved in anything against the democracy movement or against human rights. This step will help prevent infiltration that threatens our national security.
I think I'm running out of time now. Please refer to my submitted recommendations to enhance this current immigration policy in the spirit of the lifeboat program to save Hong Kongers.
I'm happy to answer questions related to my recommendations, in the Q and A session.
I urge you to give these recommendations your serious attention and lend your support towards opening our doors to those facing political persecution.
Thank you very much.
The Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l'immigration, or AQAADI, was founded in 1991 to bring together immigration and refugee law practitioners of Quebec, and to provide them with better representation with the Quebec bar association and various political and judicial bodies, both in terms of federal and provincial immigration.
We intervene before the Federal Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Superior Court of Quebec. We also participate in various House of Commons committees, like today, and in different Quebec National Assembly committees.
The current situation in Hong Kong is very worrisome. We applaud the Government of Canada's positions to facilitate and accelerate the processing of certain applications for permanent residence. However, we think it is possible to do much more in that area, and we will focus on two points that could be implemented quickly.
When it comes to refugee protection, we are asking that files currently being processed by the Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong be accelerated and finalized. It is important to enable the quick resettlement of sponsored refugees recognized by Canada and of certain applicants on humanitarian and compassionate grounds who are in Hong Kong. It would be important to finalize those files as quickly as possible, so that those people could be safe again in Canada.
If certain files are not finalized, temporary resident permits, or TRPs, should be issued quickly, so that those refugee protection claimants, often sponsored privately or through what is referred to as refugee sponsorship agreement holders, can get to Canada as safely and as quickly as possible. Canada should also assess the possibility of granting refugee protection directly to individuals in Hong Kong who may need protection quickly so that they can come to Canada as soon as possible.
Second, we believe that Canada should allow the reactivation of the Canadian citizenship of certain Hong Kong residents who may have lost it owing to the non-recognition of dual citizenship by the People's Republic of China. It would be important for certain individuals to be able to once again validate or reactivate the Canadian citizenship they lost because they had to choose between the two citizenships after deciding to continue their life in Hong Kong.
For former Canadian citizens, the could issue a policy in light of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow their Canadian citizenship to be reactivated, so that they could easily return to the country as Canadian citizens, without having to start the immigration process from the beginning.
These are some ideas among many others, but I think that a bit more could be done in terms of those two aspects—refugee protection and the reactivation of those individuals' citizenship.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you very much to the witnesses. Your opening testimonies were excellent.
It's very nice to see you here again today, Ms. Go, and I'm really happy to have your expertise on this panel.
I took a number of notes of the things you said, and I appreciated how you laid out very clearly the fear that no one is safe and that the activists' liberty is being ripped away as they are put in jail for 36 hours under terrible conditions. It is very alarming to hear what is happening.
Ms. Go, given that there are 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong and thousands in Canada with close ties to more family in Hong Kong, you've outlined that you don't believe the government's response is adequate at all. Can you outline what some other countries are doing and reiterate some of your recommendations of what measures the Government of Canada should be taking now to support Hong Kong?
Sure. Maybe I'll use the example of the U.K. government. They agreed to take in all the Hong Kong people with a BNO passport, but that doesn't apply to all the activists. It's only for people who were born before 1997 and whose parents are not from China. That excluded a number of people as well, but those with a passport will have a pathway to citizenship five years later, I believe.
With respect to the 300,000 Canadians you're mentioning—and I want to echo the last speaker—some of them may have chosen to give up their citizenship when they ran for election in Hong Kong. We know at least a couple who are in that situation. More importantly, for the Canadians who are there, their family members may not be Canadian citizens or permanent residents. It might be easier if it's a spouse or children because they can apply to sponsor them. It's more difficult for parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
That's why I think Mr. Li's concept of expanding the family-class reunification is very important. I don't think that relying on the super visa—which is what mentioned in the announcement, to give parents a super visa—would address this issue, because the super visa is a temporary status. Again, those people would have to return to Hong Kong, while their children and grandchildren are living here.
I think, certainly, that it will be important to make sure they can come here any time before China wholesale announces that all of these people are non-Canadians, and it would also be important to allow them to bring their families over.
Several of the committee members, including yourself, outlined that many of the activists are not recently educated and have not worked in Canada. I think you outlined this really well. This impacts blue-collar workers. Joshua Wong, a very famous pro-democracy activist, is, I believe, facing perhaps five years in prison.
Can you outline again what the Government of Canada should be considering? I think what you've mentioned really limits it to almost an elite group of people who will make Canada the most money if they come here. It ignores all these blue-collar workers. Could you just expand on your thoughts on that?
Sure. For instance, they are saying that you can come here as a student. That's true, but if you come here as a student, they expect you to pay the international student tuition fee. I'm sure a lot of these individuals, including some of the 12- and 13-year-olds who were arrested last year, may not have the money to do so. That option is just not open to them. If they can somehow make their way here, they still have to finish high school and then university before they qualify for that open work permit program for post-university students.
I think it's important to recognize that if these are activists, they leave Hong Kong because of their political beliefs, and we should treat these people almost as asylum seekers. Then, rather than going through the refugee determination process, we have another way. I think what the previous two panellists mentioned, and what Ms. Kwan also mentioned in the last panel—having some kind of program similar to the one that was in place after the Tiananmen Square massacre—would be good as well. You'd basically allow the Hong Kong nationals to apply for permanent resident status in Canada.
I'm not so sure—I'm sorry, Mr. Li—about the requirement for them to sign a declaration. Certainly you can do a security check on these individuals. Just because they may not have.... They might be in a situation where speaking out could put them at risk, so I think it's important that we think carefully before we impose that kind of requirement on applicants.
As I already said, broadening the definition of the family class could also be a very good solution for people who initially or fundamentally do now qualify. So Canada could allow that broadening and better qualifications.
Authorities could also do better in terms of refugee protection. In fact, many people are waiting to be resettled in Canada. That must be done very quickly, through a temporary resident permit, or TRP. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allows this. It is very important.
It is a matter of opening the door, of reducing as much as possible the wait time on Hong Kong soil and, perhaps, granting temporary residence permits as quickly as possible, so that people can not only come to Canada as visitors, but more importantly work there, be integrated and be safe again as quickly as possible.
Okay. Actually, I'll go back to the first question. I think that right now we have a good refugee sponsorship program, but it's like the chicken and the egg: We will never get the refugees because there's nobody to certify the refugees in Hong Kong or a nearby country. There's no UNHCR there, and the Canadian consulate staff are not doing that. That's why one of our suggestions is that if we can identify refugees from Hong Kong from abroad, then we can use the existing refugee sponsorship program to sponsor Hong Kongers to come here.
I echo all the comments from my fellow witnesses. I think those are grave concerns, especially when the elected officials from Hong Kong all gave up their Canadian citizenship. I think we should have some way that lets them reinstate their citizenship and then come back here, because the situation in Hong Kong is really hostile.
They usually try to arrest you with harassment. They will come to your house at 6 a.m. and then put you.... Actually, they've been detained for more than 36 hours. I think a couple of them have. Even a 71-year-old barrister from Hong Kong was detained for 44 hours in a cold cell. He's really old already, but they still tried to harass him. When they cannot find the right law to prosecute somebody, they will just use the national security law.
I thank the three witnesses for their presentation and their recommendations.
My first question is for Mr. Cliche-Rivard. As everyone said, the current government programs are very restrictive and are not really targeting a large part of the population. I am talking about work permit or study permit programs that potentially lead to permanent residence.
For those who manage to leave their country without getting arrested by Chinese authorities and to set foot on Canadian soil, and who would like to make a claim for refugee protection, what would be the main pitfalls they will face, as far as you know?
Right now, it is very difficult, as there are major issues with the consideration of the eligibility of refugee protection claims filed at ports of entry or inside Canada. It takes a long time for the famous refugee protection claimant document to be issued and for a work permit to be obtained.
More particularly in the case of claims filed on Canadian soil, a very long wait time puts people in situations of considerable vulnerability. So telling them they can come and simply claim refugee protection here, in the current context, is very problematic. A major effort must be made to accelerate the interviews to determine claim eligibility, as some files dating back to March 2020 have still not been processed. So there is nearly a year of waiting before certain files that give access to work permits are processed. That's certainly an important element.
Then, once the refugee protection claim has been received, within two to three years from the arrival in Canada, if it is accepted, people must still wait two more years to obtain permanent residence. So that brings the total wait time to four to five years, which is excessively long for someone who wants to bring their family to Canada and know whether they will be safe over the long term.
I think solutions must be found so that status can be granted quickly, as a number of people are facing the real possibility of having to return to their country.
Madam Chair, I would like to add to that.
I think one of the biggest challenges is whether or not they can actually enter Canada because of the travel ban. For instance, we are working with a number of activists who are stranded in the U.K. They managed to leave Hong Kong and that's the first country they were able to get to. They can't even come to Canada right now.
Those who actually managed to come here are the lucky ones. In fact, the process has been relatively quick, compared to the normal refugee determination process for the Hong Kong asylum seekers, but the fact that they can't come in is one big problem. That's why we have been pushing for having some kind of temporary resident permits for these individuals to come here. At least they'll be safe, and then, hopefully, we will have some kind of pathway for them to get permanent resident status.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for their very thoughtful presentations.
I'd like to go to Ms. Go first, on the following question.
With respect to measures, back in 1989, the government brought in a variety of measures to deal with the Tiananmen Square situation. We just heard from officials that they did not consider those measures. I take a different view; I think the government should be looking to that situation, learn from that history and apply it to the current day.
One of the measures brought in was to ensure that all removals of Chinese nationals in Canada were suspended for an indefinite period. That's something we have not done. Do you think the Canadian government should do that?
Just related to that, the official also said that the government did not consider, and will not consider, refugee status because of the UNHCR designation, and so on.
In the 2019 mandate letter to the , the Prime Minister actually instructed him to “[i]ntroduce a dedicated refugee stream to provide safe haven for human rights advocates, journalists and humanitarian workers at risk”. Do you think we should be adopting those measures? If we do not, those folks who do not qualify under these various streams will never be able to get to Canada, even on the privately sponsored refugee stream. What are your thoughts on that?
I absolutely agree, but in the absence of that, I certainly hope there's a clear directive on H and C claims, because I'm quite worried about that process.
I'm noting my time.
You've all mentioned the limitations of the existing programs, because only a very small group of people would be able to access entry into Canada. If the government extended family-class reunification and even allowed those who are students here to apply to sponsor extended families to come to Canada, that would expand it a lot. I think I heard agreement from everyone that the government should indeed expand the family reunification measure to extended family and lift the travel restrictions, without which nobody can get here.
Can I get a quick answer from everybody on that?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you so much to the witnesses for their testimony, but especially for the important work they're doing.
It seems to me that the government's program in this area is odd, because it's about economic categories and criteria, for the most part, instead of trying to identify human rights defenders and people who are most vulnerable to political persecution. It's great to have economic migrants coming from Hong Kong, but there are so many people who would face charges under laws unrelated to the security act. There are people who are not eligible but who are most at the epicentre of these human rights issues.
It shows the problem with the government's thinking and approach to this. You can realize both benefits, of course. People who come here who face persecution can still bring a great deal of benefit economically, and that includes people who may not have that much money in their pockets when they come. The reason people are calling for immigration measures around Hong Kong is not that someone saw an economic opportunity; it's the human rights and the political situation.
I want to hear your thoughts specifically on what kinds of measures we could have around immigration to target the most vulnerable human rights defenders. You can use Hong Kong as an example. However, perhaps it's applicable to other contexts around the world as well, that when we have people who are at the centre of advocating for human rights and who become politically exposed as a result, those people would make great Canadians in virtually every case.
We do this, but it seems we do it on more of an ad hoc basis. The minister uses his or her discretion to say we're going to have this person from Saudi Arabia or whatever. However, thinking in a more systematic policy way, how do we identify those important human rights defenders and give them a path to Canada?
Maybe Ms. Go can be first, and I'd love to hear the thoughts of others.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
If time permits, I will share my four minutes with my colleague Mr. Regan.
I thank the witnesses for being with us and for their comments.
According to what we are hearing, Hong Kong residents are worried they will be refused entry into Canada if they were charged with a crime under the National Security Law. However, a bit earlier today, the department representatives told us that, if it has been established that those individuals had not committed an equivalent offence in Canada, that criminal charge would have no impact.
For example, a peaceful protest does not constitute criminal activity in Canada, so a charge or a conviction for that abroad would not lead to admission into the country being refused.
Do you think this is well understood by Hong Kong residents who may be likely to be arrested under the National Security Law?
First of all, the way arrests are being done right now, they are not going to tell you that you are being arrested because you peacefully participated in a protest. They are going to tell you that you have breached the national security law based on treason, sedition and so on. The charge itself is not peaceful protest; the charge is treason or sedition.
I think we can go beneath that to understand the conduct leading up to the charge, but rather than doing that and relying on the individual officer's interpretation of the facts and the law, we should look south of the border, as an example. I can't remember whether it's the U.S. Congress or Senate, but I believe they have basically stated that anyone charged with a criminal offence because of their peaceful participation in the protests in Hong Kong would not be barred from entering the U.S.
We can work something out that is similar to that requirement so we don't have to rely on individual CBSA officers, particularly in light of the fact that CBSA has recently tried to make the case for giving itself more power, as opposed to the immigration division, to decide who is criminally admissible and who is not.
I'm sorry for interrupting, Ms. Kwan. The time is up.
With that, our second panel comes to an end. I want to thank our three witnesses for appearing before the committee and for providing important information as we start this study today.
Before we adjourn, I want to let everyone know that in regard to the adoption of the subcommittee's report, I will review the blues. Before we hear from the witnesses, we will start with the amendment that was proposed by Ms. Dancho so that we can adopt the subcommittee's report. We will start Monday's meeting with that. I will also review the blues if there is any confusion on that.
With that, I would thank everyone. I thank all the witnesses once again, and I thank all the members for today's meeting.
The meeting is now adjourned. I will see you all on Monday.