I call to order meeting number 15 of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of the recommendations from the health authorities, as well as the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on January 28, 2021, to remain healthy and safe, all those attending the meeting in person should 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 seated. Maintain proper hand hygiene by using the provided hand sanitizers at the room entrance, and wash your hands well with soap regularly.
As the chair, I will be enforcing these measures for the duration of the meeting, and I thank all members in advance for their co-operation.
Welcome, everyone, to meeting number 15 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I just want to give you a heads-up, for the information of all members, that the has agreed to appear before the committee on Monday, March 8 regarding the supplementary estimates and the main estimates, provided we receive them in time. I understand the committee wishes to study those estimates.
The first item on the agenda today is the election of a vice-chair. PROC has changed the committee membership. Ms. Dancho is no longer a member. Mr. Kyle Seeback is now a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Thank you to Ms. Dancho for her collaborative engagement in this session. On behalf of all members, I would like to welcome Mr. Seeback to this committee.
As a result of Ms. Dancho's departure from the committee, we do not have a first vice-chair. The Standing Orders require that the first vice-chair shall be a member of the official opposition. I would request that the clerk preside over the election of the first vice-chair.
Mr. Clerk, go ahead.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'll speak very briefly about the motion.
The intention is to bring forward VFS Global to the committee so we can question VFS Global, as we know through the media—and particularly The Globe and Mail has done some extensive reporting on this—that the Canadian government has contracted out the visa office work to VFS Global. We also learned through The Globe and Mail that the subcontract of VFS Global in China is a company owned by the Beijing police. This ought to be cause for concern for all committee members, and most notably for the people who might be trying to access immigration measures through the VAC overseas.
Given the sensitive nature of the situation, particularly for the people in Hong Kong who may be seeking to get to safety here in Canada, with the implication of the Chinese government's national security law, the information the VAC received is particularly sensitive. I think it is very important that we undertake to have VFS Global come before the committee to testify so we may put questions to them and ensure this issue is addressed through this study.
Madam Chair, I hope committee members will support this motion as part of the Hong Kong study.
Thank you, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe. Yes, we are voting on a motion as presented by Ms. Kwan. If we vote in favour, we will be adding one hour with that witness.
I can repeat Ms. Kwan's motion, just for clarification:
That, regarding the study of special immigration and refugee measures for the people of Hong Kong, the committee allocate one additional hour to the study to invite representatives of VFS Global to testify for one hour, and that this meeting take place not later than February 24, 2021.
Mr. Clerk, please continue with the vote.
(Motion agreed to: yeas 9; nays 0)
The Chair: The motion is adopted. Thank you.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee is resuming its study of immigration and refugee measures for the people of Hong Kong.
Today's meeting is taking place in virtual or hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always display the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee. I would like to take this opportunity to remind all meeting participants that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.
For those participating virtually, I would like to outline a few rules to follow. Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. With the latest Zoom version, you may now speak in the language of your choice without the need to select the corresponding language channel. You will also notice that the platform's “raise hand” feature is now in a more visible location, on the main toolbar, should you wish to speak or alert the chair.
For members participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person or in a committee room.
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With regard to a speakers list, the committee clerk and I will do the best we can 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 all of the witnesses for our first panel. We have Ms. Mabel Tung, chair of Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement; Ms. Joey Siu, associate of Hong Kong Watch; and Mr. Nathan Law, appearing as an individual, is a Hong Kong activist and former legislator.
We will start with Madame Tung, chair of Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement.
Madame Tung, you have five minutes for your opening remarks. The floor is yours.
Ever since Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 its people have strived to protect their way of life and their system of government. In July 2020, China imposed a sweeping national security law, stripping the city of any remnants of autonomy, civil and social freedom. Tens of thousands turned out to protest this new legislation. Thousands were arrested and hundreds were imprisoned.
In 2021, the mass arrests have intensified. Pro-democracy legislators, democracy activists, a media tycoon and a human rights lawyer are on the list. Some are held, being denied bail.
Many Hong Kongers who participated in the movement fear they will face the same fate as the student protesters in Tiananmen Square 32 years ago. They look to western democracies for protection and safe harbour. Already 46 Hong Kong citizens are seeking asylum in Canada.
We urge the Government of Canada to lend support to Hong Kongers seeking political asylum. We welcome the new open work permits for Hong Kong residents announced by as a major step when it comes to helping young activists become integrated into Canadian society.
To make the new policy more accessible to activists under imminent persecution, we submit the following recommendations:
First, appoint a designated commissioner within the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong to handle, with utmost confidentiality, cases from political asylum seekers, including vetting, background checking and evidence gathering to establish the validity of their claims. This commissioner can enlist the help of prominent Canadian civil rights organizations such as VSSDM, which have direct connections with Hong Kong civil society. In urgent situations, we recommend providing temporary resident permits with special quotas to activists who need to leave Hong Kong and complete the application process within Canada.
Second, broaden family reunification, including for siblings and extended family. This would be another way for more young activists to flee Hong Kong. Again, in urgent situations, we also recommend providing temporary resident permits to activists who need to leave Hong Kong and complete their application within Canada.
Third, provide grants or loans to asylum seekers. Instead of applying for refugee status, asylum seekers would receive a loan to further their studies and they would pay back the loan in the same way that one pays back student loans. This way the federal government would not be required to pay any financial assistance, thereby saving taxpayers' money. Furthermore, this would save the activists from having to live through a year of uncertainty.
Number four, support former Canadian citizens who returned to Hong Kong and ran for public office in the pan-democracy camp. These Canadians were required to give up their Canadian citizenship. These legislators have subsequently been either disqualified to run or stripped of their seats under the national security law. We ask that the Canadian government grant them pathways to regain their Canadian citizenship, such as giving them permanent resident status to work towards citizenship.
Number five, extend the visas of Hong Kongers currently residing in Canada under the temporary work permit who participated in protest actions in various Canadian cities since 2019. They face an uncertain future. They fear returning to Hong Kong only to be arrested or barred from leaving the city, or remaining in Canada without proper status. We recommend allowing for an application to extend their existing visa to a five-year visa with an expedited pathway towards obtaining permanent resident status.
Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for arranging this hearing and inviting me to testify.
Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement kicked off in June 2019, and the world has witnessed how the Chinese communist regime has been continuing its cruel crackdown on the city's long-cherished freedom and rights.
In November 2019, I came to Ottawa, after the tragic sieges of the universities and the landslide victory in the district council election, for a cross-party discussion, chaired by MP Garnett Genuis, to give a briefing on Hong Kong's situation. The remarkable election results gave the people of Hong Kong a glimpse of hope, but unfortunately the situation deteriorated very rapidly after that.
The imposition of the national security law in July 2020, cancellation of our legislative council election, disqualification of democratic lawmakers, suppression of freedom of expression and also attacks on judiciary independence all amount to the picture of Beijing's very brutal dismantling of Hong Kong's core values. We've seen a grave breach of the promises made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The national security legislation criminalizes—
Yes. Thank you. I will continue.
Imposed in July 2020, the national security legislation criminalizes even the most trivial forms of protest and any kind of disobedience to the Chinese communist regime. It is not only me or Nathan or any other Hong Kong activists who are becoming subjects of the national security law; it is also any Canadian in Hong Kong or here in Canada who has ever expressed support for the pro-democracy struggle in Hong Kong.
Since the implementation of this national security legislation, more than a hundred Hong Kongers have been arrested—and most recently, there are 55 prominent political figures, including activists, lawyers and academics from the whole political spectrum—under the fake charges of subversion of state, simply because of their participation in the democratic primaries. All of these arrestees are facing not only a very serious sentencing but also the possibility of extradition back to mainland China.
The chief executive of Hong Kong is empowered to designate judges who will be handling national security cases, and Hong Kong's national security department itself can request the Chinese government's exercise of jurisdiction over cases that are considered to be complex or serious. As Hong Kong's judges rightfully dismiss the most ridiculous charges against protesters, the government will more frequently exercise these options to avoid them.
My organization, Hong Kong Watch, has been working very closely with partners across the globe, including from the U.K., the U.S., the EU and Australia, to call for a global lifeboat scheme. Since our founding in 2017, we have championed the rights of BNOs overseas. In July 2020, the U.K. announced its new policy to provide a pathway to citizenship for BNO passport holders, which came into effect last month. Up to 750,000 BNO holders from Hong Kong are expected to take up this scheme.
We applaud the Canadian government's decision of joining the two countries in November of last year to provide a safe haven for Hong Kongers, offering Hong Kongers the opportunity to relocate. Given the complicated situation that Canada is in with its two citizens being held hostage by Beijing, we recognize and praise the courage it took for Canada to live up to its historical relationship to Hong Kong.
However, a lot of people will still fall through the gaps in these policies. The young talents scheme, which partially came into effect on February 8 and expires in February 2023, requires top qualifications and a level of funding that excludes some of the most politically exposed protesters. The sunset nature of the open work visa permit policy leaves behind young protesters who are graduating after 2023. Also, the very complicated asylum procedures are preventing protesters without adequate legal support from applying, while family reunification only covers a very small number of Hong Kongers with close Canadian family members.
As Hong Kong's situation continues to worsen, it is crucial for Canada to continue to work alongside like-minded partners and to take prompt actions to improve the existing schemes. Below are a few recommendations that we believe could create a road map for improving the policy.
First, it was guaranteed that protesters arrested or charged under the national security law would not be deprived of the opportunity of filing asylum applications. However, among the 10,000 protesters arrested since 2019, most of them were charged under the public order ordinance about rioting or participating in unlawful assembly. We encourage the Canadian government to also promise that these arrestees and Hong Kong protesters will be guaranteed an opportunity to file asylum—
Madam Chair and other members of the committee, bonjour
I'm Nathan Law, a Hong Kong activist who was forced into exile under Beijing's tightening [Technical difficulty—Editor]. Thank you for having me today to give my testimony on the ongoing deterioration in Hong Kong.
As a young activist, I was a student leader of the umbrella movement in 2014, democratically elected as the youngest legislative member, before being unseated under Beijing's intervention.
Later, for my participation in peaceful protests, I was thrown into jail. But now, due to the threat of the national security law, I left the city. The police force has now put my name on the wanted list under this law. While 2021 might be a better year for many of us, it is not the case for the people living in this city under Beijing's tightening control.
Under the draconian national security law, the rule of law and liberty decay. Fifty-five democratic figures were charged with secession just because they took part in a primary election to exercise their constitutional rights. Beijing lawyers are also calling for surveillance cameras to monitor speeches in classrooms. Recently, the Hong Kong government rolled out real-name registration for mobile phones, because it wants to monitor every call. These strategies suggest that Hong Kong is turning into an ordinary mainland city.
Hong Kong needs help from around the world. Values of freedom and democracy are being demolished. Freedom-loving people in Hong Kong are facing white terror on a daily basis. Whoever gives testimony at hearings, talks about the worsening situation in Hong Kong or expresses critical views on Beijing in interviews can face charges under the security law. Their bank accounts can be frozen and their family members are intimidated or even interrogated.
To protect my family, I had to publicly sever my ties with my parents and relatives who are still in Hong Kong. As there are cases where Hong Kong activists have been brutally beaten by CCP-affiliated agents, I have to live in solitude and avoid public appearances during my exile, not to mention that many other asylum seekers lack financial and social supports. All of this shows that we are living in an era where authoritarian power can stretch beyond its border.
In these times of political turmoil, Hong Kongers owe their gratitude to Canada's recent lifeboat scheme, which opens new pathways to residency for Hong Kong people who have certain qualifications. This is an indication that the free world can work together to stand up against tyranny and for this once autonomous city. We all need to do more before it's too late, before authoritarianism wins over democracy.
At the same time, when Beijing criminalized rallies and punished dissidents, the existing arrangement might bring a disadvantage to those with politically indicted charges. According to what Ms. Siu just said, even though Canada promises that asylum claims will not be affected by national security law charges, the majority of protesters—over 10,000 of them—were arrested under non-national security law charges. The current policy may block their pathway to freedom. To demonstrate support to those under political suppression, Canada should state very clearly that protest-related criminal records will be exempt.
Besides, to deliver more targeted measures that serve Hong Kong people's interests, Canada could work with human rights groups to enhance security checks and screen out applicants having ties with the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong police force. It becomes even more urgent when China's Operation Fox Hunt is reportedly targeting Canada's Chinese community.
We should take measures to ensure that Canada is a safe haven in real terms. At a time when democracies worldwide [Inaudible—Editor] Canada can take the lead to rebuild democracy.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for their courage to share their testimony.
I'll just get right into it.
Mr. Law, there are recent reports in Canada about the visa application centres that are now being operated in Beijing by a company that's owned by the Chinese police. It's the same police you talked about who literally threw you into jail. Given the circumstances of all of that, these are the same people who are going to be making decisions.
Given your history and what you've been through, what does that mean to you and other people like you?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I, too, want to thank the witnesses for appearing and for their courage.
My first double question is for Ms. Tung and Ms. Siu. I think it may allow you to finish your opening comments, as a matter of fact.
In relation to the program parameters that the government has created, are there aspects of the measures introduced by the government that you believe should be expanded? What criteria have helped? What do you think can be defined in a more open way?
I'll start with Ms. Tung and then go to Ms. Siu, please.
The open permit is pretty good for a lot of students, but we still have to consider that most students haven't finished university. We should also allow students with 60 university credits to apply for the open work permit. The current open work permit scheme allows graduates of recognized two-year diploma programs within the last five years to apply. However, many of those on four-year university programs have to complete their four-year program to apply.
Many currently enrolled university students who have participated in the recent protests and demonstrations are subject to police brutality. Many of them are awaiting trial. We recommend allowing current university students who have completed a minimum of 60 credits—which is equal to two years of study—to apply for open work permits.
Second, they should be eligible for the work permit for up to 10 years after graduation, instead of just five years. The reason is that the fight to preserve freedom and democracy in Hong Kong began in 2014, when hundreds of thousands marched in the streets. Those protestors finished university over five years ago now. In order to protect them and enable them to come to Canada, eligibility should be extended to up to 10 years instead of the five years.
Another reason is that right now they may have a lot of work experience and are also self-sufficient and able to contribute to Canadian society. That's why we're recommending that the eligibility be 10 years.
Thank you, Ms. Tung, for those recommendations.
On top of that, we have also made a recommendation encouraging the Canadian government to extend the current youth working holiday visa from one year to two years and also to expand the age group from 18 years to 30 years to 18 years to 35 years, bringing this in line with Australia's working holiday scheme. That would ensure that Hong Kongers, even without post-secondary education qualifications, would also be given the opportunity to apply eventually for permanent resident status in Canada. That would be very helpful.
As I have just mentioned, the protesters in Hong Kong are from all sorts of backgrounds. Especially, there are a lot of very young protesters who are still in secondary school and without a post-secondary education. It would definitely be very helpful for us to expand the open work permit or the coverage of the young talents scheme to also take care of these very young protesters from Hong Kong.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My sincere thanks to the three witnesses this evening.
You have talked a lot about courage, and you are showing it yourselves. I won't say any more about it, because we don't have a lot of time.
Ms. Siu, you spoke earlier about Canada's courage in stating its position on Hong Kong, despite the situation of the two Michaels, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. There is currently a movement in Canada, in Quebec and around the world calling for a boycott or a relocation of the Beijing Olympics if the genocide of the Uighurs and other Turkic peoples continues in Xinjiang.
What impact could a movement of that kind have on the current situation in Hong Kong?
Ms. Siu can answer first, followed by the other two witnesses.
For the people who are trying to get to safety, you touched on some of the measures that need to be brought into place still. On the issue of asylum, basically we don't have an asylum measure, because unless they're in Canada, people cannot apply for asylum.
What do you think the Canadian government should do in terms of bringing in asylum measures for people who are still in Hong Kong at this moment?
This for Mr. Law and then Ms. Tung.
I call the meeting to order and welcome our witnesses.
In this panel, we are joined by Mr. Alex Neve, who is a senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa. We are also joined by Mr. Charles Burton, who is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's centre for advancing Canada’s interests abroad. We have another witness, Mr. Ted Hui Chi-fung, who I see is with us now. Welcome.
All our witnesses will have five minutes for their opening remarks.
Mr. Neve, you can please start.
Thank you so very much, Madam Chair.
Good evening to all the committee members.
Good afternoon to Ms. Kwan and any other colleagues out west.
At the heart of today's hearing, of course, is the unrelenting deterioration of the human rights situation in Hong Kong, culminating with the imposition of the new security law last year. That law has been used widely to target students, political opponents, critics and journalists and, of greatest concern, to curtail fundamental rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and peaceful protest.
A growing number of individuals have been arrested, and in the face of remarkable courage and resilience on the part of Hong Kongers, this situation nonetheless continues to worsen.
As with any human rights crisis, pressing refugee concerns have arisen, and there are unique aspects to this refugee situation that merit specific and innovative responses.
First, of course, is the simple geographic reality. In almost all other refugee situations around the world, people have the possibility of making it to the closest land border—even if the journey may be dangerous—crossing that border, and accessing international protection through the UNHCR and other agencies. That's obviously not an option here.
Second are the strong Canadian connections. There are likely well over 300,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, many with dual nationality, whose situations are very vulnerable with increasing reports of officials refusing to recognize their Canadian citizenship, as well as recent concerns about a proposal to give immigration officials “unfettered power” to stop anyone from leaving Hong Kong. Many of those Canadians have close family who are not Canadian citizens but who cannot be left behind. This means protecting Canadian citizens and also permanent residents facing threats, challenges and restrictions akin to refugees. That's a very unique situation.
It was encouraging to see the special immigration measures announced in November. More is urgently needed, however, and I'd like to quickly make five general recommendations.
First, the special measures should be strengthened. You've heard thoughtful testimony from advocates such as Avvy Go, Cherie Wong and Gloria Fung, who have highlighted ways in which the new open work permit privileges wealth and high levels of education but may not be accessible for others, including young activists, at greatest risk. The criteria should be revised to be more responsive to those facing the greatest need.
Second, possibilities for family sponsorship need to be expanded. While the option of parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens applying for super visas is rightly being promoted, close family at risk is broader than that, including brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews. Canadians who may need to escape Hong Kong should not be forced to leave close family members behind.
Third, while it is not legally possible to formally provide refugee status to Hong Kongers still present in Hong Kong, refugee and refugee-like measures are nonetheless needed, rather than relying primarily on immigration avenues. Some Hong Kongers have been able to flee to other countries, including Taiwan. Beyond noting that refugee resettlement may be an option for such individuals, Canada should devote more resources to actively facilitate resettlement on an expedited basis. As for individuals trapped in Hong Kong who need a quick means of escape, Canada should make greater use of humanitarian avenues for granting status through temporary resident permits and travel documents, if necessary—in other words, refugee protection in all but name.
Fourth, there's an urgent need for strategies for facilitating travel in the face of repressive security measures in Hong Kong and the constraints of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Staying abreast of security barriers that impede departure from Hong Kong requires close collaboration with other governments. I would certainly echo the concerns about possible security problems associated with visa applications being processed by VFS Global. The has asked and to look into this. It would be advisable to ask the Privacy Commissioner to get involved to review this urgently as well.
Fifth, let me highlight two bigger-picture and longer-term points. The first is that this situation highlights the limitations of protecting individuals at risk in their countries who cannot cross a border to apply for refugee resettlement. Canada has had previous programs that offered urgent protection to people unable to cross that international border, most recently the source country program, which was repealed in 2011. The government should look at restoring options for people in those situations.
Finally, let me reiterate the obvious. The best solution to address the grave—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I've read the evidence given by the highly articulate and insightful witnesses at the first part of this meeting and at the previous two meetings. I have read the three briefs that were given to the committee by Alliance Canada Hong Kong, Canada-Hong Kong Link, and the very reverend Richard Soo.
It's pretty clear that the government's current proposal to address the immigration and refugee implications for Canada of the current crisis in Hong Kong is too restrictive to meet the challenge of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Hong Kong.
This is a matter of considerable urgency. There are strong indications that the Hong Kong government is on the way to restricting exit from Hong Kong. There is also the ongoing issue of the Hong Kong authorities seizing the passports of persons in Hong Kong, many of whom should be allowed to seek refuge in Canada with their families. Our subcontracting of immigration application processing to outside agencies with murky links to the PRC regime is very troubling. Moreover, our lack of flexibility in processing applications from Hong Kong persons at risk who are still in Hong Kong, and for those who have been able to flee to Canada and other jurisdictions, is troubling.
Certainly, there are very strong humanitarian, compassionate reasons why the Government of Canada should adopt exceptional measures to facilitate persons in Hong Kong who are at risk of severe sanctions under the draconian national security law and the other provisions getting to safety in our country.
I understand that the function of this committee is to determine what policy approach in response to the ongoing crisis in Hong Kong best serves Canada's national interest. Of course, we have to look at this in terms of the larger picture of Canada-China relations. For example, if we take strong and meaningful action in response to PRC suppression of the rights of citizens of Hong Kong and harsh detention of those who dare to speak out for democracy and the independent rule of law there, will it impact Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, or will it lead to economic retaliation by the PRC regime against Canada that will damage our economic interests?
I judge, though, that the kinds of half measures the government is currently proposing, supplemented by simple lip service to Canada's commitment to democracy and freedom in Hong Kong, signal to the Government of China that its policies of hostage diplomacy and threats of economic coercion through arbitrary imposition of non-tariff barriers to Canadian trade and investment are, in fact, working well in terms of China's geostrategic agenda for Canada.
Our policies of appeasement to China by not making the officials of the PRC regime accountable for their flouting of the rules-based international order with regard to Hong Kong, or for that matter the Uighur genocide or arbitrary detention of Canadians in China, only embolden the Chinese regime to intensify these assaults against Canadian security and sovereignty.
Frankly, as a Canadian of European origin, I feel ashamed at Canada's weakness in response to the grave concerns of Canadians of Hong Kong origin who are urging this committee to implement a much better and stronger immigration and refugee policy towards people at risk in Hong Kong, and that includes our need to abrogate the contract with VFS with the shortest possible delay.
Let's face it. Canada endorsed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in Hong Kong at the request of the British and Chinese governments when it was lodged with the United Nations all those years ago. That endorsement has imposed an international obligation on Canada to respond to protect the people of Hong Kong who have been betrayed by the Government of China's disavowal of its international commitment to the one country, two systems policy and 50 years of no change when the sovereignty of Hong Kong transferred from Britain to China in 1997. That obligation on Canada did not come with an expiry date.
Moreover, Canada's relationship with Hong Kong is extraordinarily profound. With half a million Canadians who identify as of Hong Kong origin resident in our country, and over 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, our government should take the concerns of our Hong Kong Canadians much more seriously than we have done up to now.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I am Ted Hui, actually, Mr. Hui. I'm a former legislator, having served the Hong Kong legislature for the past four years. I left Hong Kong and went into exile two months ago to continue speaking for Hong Kong's freedom without being forced into jail.
Police brutality and political persecutions in Hong Kong are unequivocal and undeniable. I experienced them myself first-hand: tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and pinned down to the ground, and prosecuted in court for ridiculous reasons. Under the new national security law, Hong Kongers and dissidents' fundamental rights are further compromised as the Hong Kong administration interferes in court proceedings and bail arrangements.
It is imminent for many young individuals and family units who are under threat from the Hong Kong CCP regime to flee on humanitarian grounds from persecution. I'm grateful that the Canadian government and parliamentarians are already taking stronger stands against human rights violations in Hong Kong. Levels plans schemes are also under way for young protestors who are being persecuted; however, they might be quite inadequate as well, and might not launch soon enough in terms of providing a safe haven.
I will refer to the new open work permits beginning on February 8 that allow Hong Kongers to work in Canada. Under that scheme, Hong Kongers must have graduated with a Canadian post-secondary diploma or degree in the last five years, which is very limiting. I'll take myself as an example. I finished high school and attended university here in Canada 18 years ago. My qualifications would be obsolete for the scheme, even though I'm still considered to be fairly young—in my thirties. Many young protesters who now urgently need a safe place away from Hong Kong are in their twenties and thirties, just like me. They'll be barred from the scheme totally, even with having Canadian qualifications. After all, the scheme will be beneficial only to a small number of those who are already onshore, but not to those who are about to go to jail in Hong Kong.
I note two other pathways to permanent residence for young Hong Kongers, which will be available later this year. I'm also grateful for that. However, they might come too late for those who need to flee, as the Hong Kong regime is introducing “Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2020”, under which the Hong Kong administration can ban anyone from boarding an aircraft, a boat or any other means of transportation—without the need to give any reasons. It means that the Hong Kong regime will have full power to impose direct exit restrictions on any Hong Kong resident.
This piece of law is expected to be passed in our legislature, which is now without any opposition, in two or three months' time. In extreme cases, the regime can bar all Hong Kongers who apply for Canadian work visas or permanent residency from leaving Hong Kong. Time is of the essence, and for the pathways for Hong Kongers to be effective, they must be launched fairly soon.
Finally, on the point of asylum, I understand that it is on a case-by-case basis, but I urge the Canadian government to go for a lenient approach towards young Hong Kong protesters. Give them privileges and see them as convention refugees under international law—as the Sino-British Joint Declaration between the U.K. and China is breached and fundamental rights of Hong Kongers are under attack—providing for offshore protection visa routes so that they know there will be a safe place for them to stay for a longer term before they land in Canada.
Hong Kong people have high hopes in the Canadians. I hope the Canadian government and parliamentarians can join hands with the free world to fight for freedom and to speak up for freedom for Hong Kong, be it by Magnitsky-style sanctions or other types of economic sanctions. I'm personally all for the boycotting of international events, sports events and institutional events, or other kinds of boycotting and isolation towards Beijing.
Thank you so much, committee members, for listening to me and to other Hong Kongers.
Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My first question is for Mr. Chi-fung and Professor Burton. It seems to me that the immigration measures that the government has announced oddly create an economic track for a problem that's not so much driven by economics but by a political situation. It's as if we've looked at this situation and said, “Hey, this is a great opportunity for us to attract university-educated young people from Hong Kong who already have a certain level of capacity”, which is great, but we're not targeting, in our offer of support, people who are politically vulnerable. We're leaving out people who may not have those qualifications or that economic position but who have been charged or who are vulnerable to political pressure.
It's completely wrong to think about the issue in economic terms as opposed to political and human rights terms. That's how I see it. I'd love to hear your feedback. Am I correct in my perception? Is there something I'm missing? Do you agree? Do you want to add to that?
Yes, I quite agree with you. I was looking at a video of 82-year-old Martin Lee, a hero of Hong Kong democracy for many decades, walking from a Hong Kong court. Can we not get Mr. Lee here to safety in Canada? He has such a close connection to our country and to the Hong Kong community here. There are the younger people who, at the beginning of their life, are facing imprisonment and possible transmission to jail hell in China, comparable to what we know about with Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The fact that they don't meet our immigration priorities in terms of the ability to contribute to Canada or their ability to communicate in English or French I don't think should be the criteria under which we determine whether our Canadian values are compatible with giving refuge to these people, who are simply asking for the right to live in a democratic society with the rule of law.
Unfortunately, they're endangered in Hong Kong. I think they would make exemplary new Canadians here in Canada. I hope we can bring in as many as possible on as flexible criteria as possible, particularly taking into account their political stance, not their ability to contribute immediately to the Canadian economy.
Yes, thank you, Mr. Genuis.
I share quite the same view as you and the feelings that many young protesters are excluded from the existing schemes the Canadian government is providing. We spoke of Martin Lee, who worked with me continuously over the past 10 years, who will be excluded from these schemes as well.
I also speak for those young protesters who participated in front-line protests, being shot by the police, tear-gassed and personally injured. They would also be excluded from the schemes, only because they are secondary school students or they have obsolete qualifications or those unsuitable to Canadian ones. I believe it's only humanitarian to expand all these schemes and visa routes to include those people who are now not included in the schemes. I hope Canadians can really do that to join hands with the Hong Kong people.
Mr. Neve, you have done extensive work on the issue of threats and intimidation targeting Canadians in Canada who are perhaps recent immigrants or members of diaspora communities involved in human rights issues. This is something that I think we should be concerned about, that people who flee here from Hong Kong would be subject to ongoing violence, threats and intimidation of family members.
I've put forward motion 55 that calls on the government to offer better support to victims of foreign state-backed interference.
I wonder if you can share what key takeaways this committee needs to think about in terms of dealing with the safety and security of newcomers once they get here.
My thanks to the witnesses for being with us this evening. I will ask both my questions now. That will give you time to answer.
My first question is for Mr. Neve.
The government has created programs for Hong Kong residents based on current trends in existing programs. Attempts have been made to strengthen existing immigration corridors. I would like to know whether that was a good way to go about it and whether we should actually widen those immigration corridors.
You talked about resettlement. I'd like to hear from you about that.
My second question is for Mr. Burton.
The government has created programs that were complementary to the immigration corridors that exist among our allies. Should we have replicated those programs instead of complementing what our allies already provide?
Thank you for the question.
Certainly, while it's very understandable that there's been an effort to make use of immigration measures as an initial response to this crisis, as has already been noted here and as other witnesses have noted, that's going to be limited and imperfect given that this is a refugee situation we're primarily concerned about. It's a bit of a square peg in a round hole when we look at that.
We all understand the need to be creative here in using immigration measures or things like temporary resident permits, given that there is that limitation on granting official refugee status while individuals are in Hong Kong. The immigration measures haven't been tailored in a way that's going to be responsive to the reality of those in greatest need. We've heard that powerfully with the reference to Martin Lee's case and by also highlighting the situation of young activists.
If we're going to use immigration measures here, there needs to be a real overhaul of the criteria to make sure they're going to be responsive to who has the greatest need of protection.
My thanks to all the witnesses for being here.
My first question is a general question for all the witnesses. It may help them complete their answers to the previous questions.
There seems to be a fairly broad consensus that the proposed immigration measures are too restrictive and not broad enough to accommodate those currently demonstrating in Hong Kong and facing imprisonment. It also seems that all the measures that could affect refugees are insufficient, because often people will not even make it out of the country. Many who try to do so may be put in jail and have their documents confiscated.
I would like to hear from you about the aspect of international relations. In your opinion, do you think that measures that only deal with immigration become a little superficial if we do not apply more diplomatic pressure?
Immigration measures of course can be political pressuring tools and can be a gesture of recognition of the freedom movements in the past years in Hong Kong, but in my view it's more than that. Now we are talking about humanitarian assistance. Those people are facing personal threats to their personal safety and are thrown in jail. I, myself, was followed by stalkers and intelligence forces for the past six years before I went into exile. Imagine that life for just normal civilians, for students and for young protesters themselves.
I agree the existing schemes are restrictive and should be more tailor-made for those who are in need. My answer is that, yes, it can be a political gesture and it can be a tool, but it should be more on a humanitarian basis.
Maybe I'll jump in and say absolutely yes. Clearly the best solution to the Hong Kong refugee crisis is to address the human rights crisis. If human rights can be restored to Hong Kong and if this rapid erosion in freedom can be curtailed, people will not need to flee in the first place. That does take us into the diplomatic realm.
Canada has been taking more and more steps over the last couple of years and has spoken out more frequently in the past, but so much more needs to be done here. It absolutely has to be done on a multilateral basis with a growing number of countries. It was encouraging to see that at the General Assembly in the fall, around 37 or 38 countries came together to make a public statement around the Hong Kong situation. We need to get far beyond those numbers.
I think there's a complementarity here. If we are also working together with other governments to do humanitarian work jointly and making it very clear that the international community, not just Canada, sees a refugee crisis in Hong Kong, that adds to the pressure on China as well.