Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Michael Pal
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Michael Pal
2015-05-26 12:17
Thank you very much to the committee for having me here to speak on this important bill. I'm a law professor at the University of Ottawa where I teach constitutional law and election law. You're all invited to come and speak to my class, if you'd like, down the road.
I'm going to give you a very different perspective than Professor Lee. You would have thought the law professor would be the one quoting Hobbes and Foucault, but instead I'm going to speak to the constitutionality of Bill C-50, particularly the rules on registration and on voter identification for overseas voters.
In my opinion, and I wish it was otherwise, the bill as currently written is unconstitutional for violating section 3, which is of course the guarantee of the right to vote in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's unconstitutional because it substantially burdens the rights of all citizens, no matter where they live, all Canadian citizens, to be able to cast a ballot.
I would also add that I don't believe Bill C-50 is actually in the spirit of the Frank decision. Frank, of course, struck down the rule preventing those overseas for five years or more from voting, so it actually expanded voting rights.
My fear with Bill C-50 is that the House may inadvertently be doing indirectly what the courts have said it cannot do directly. The House of Commons cannot deprive people, ban them from voting. But if the rules are so onerous as to make it nearly impossible to be able to cast a ballot, then the effect is the same.
The relevant sections here for overseas voters, in particular, that raise a constitutional dimension are those that require individuals to register at each election and only once the writ has been dropped, and then the voter ID requirements from the Fair Elections Act being applied here.
Requiring registration only after the writ is dropped is a recipe for denying the right to vote to Canadian citizens. The timelines are extremely tight and I know there has been some discussion at the committee about Canada Post and how long it takes to go back and forth. Once you factor in applying to register, the approval by Elections Canada, and then sending your ballot in, it can become very difficult to get it in on time. It's not impossible, but we shouldn't have to be lucky to be able to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. I fear that is what this bill would do.
I would just draw the committee's attention to the recent British election, which also had extensive postal balloting of hundreds of thousands of people, and an article from The Guardian. It said that 113,000 people applied to vote by post, and overseas voters raised concerns they did not receive their ballots in time. We often look to the United Kingdom as a shining example of democracy and here even through best efforts postal voting can be deeply problematic.
Second, to turn to the ID requirements, the driver's licence is, of course, the document that has both your identification and your residence on it. Of those who live overseas, however, or in the United States but are Canadian citizens, very few will actually have an incentive to keep their driver's licence or documents that prove their identification and residence.
I know the committee has had a discussion in Bill C-23 about ID requirements, so all I would add is that for overseas voters, however onerous the ID requirements are for Canadians living in Canada, for Canadians living abroad they're likely to be even more onerous. Why would you keep all those pieces of ID that you might potentially need in order to vote because you probably don't need them for any other reason?
To turn to the constitutionality explicitly, the courts have consistently expanded the right to vote since we've had the charter. The Sauvé decision granted prisoners the right to vote. Cases have also granted the mentally ill the right to vote. Frank, from the Ontario Superior Court—and we'll see what the court of appeal has to say and then potentially the Supreme Court—was absolutely in that tradition. If one is a citizen, any restriction on the right to vote has to be very clearly justified by the government.
The question here is: what is the justification? I believe, as Professor Pilon said, we don't have good evidence of widespread fraud that would lead us to say we should limit the right to vote of those who are non-residents. I would ask the committee to weigh the very direct and concrete harm that's likely to result for Canadians living outside of the country, making it very difficult for them to vote, versus the relatively abstract goal of trying to prevent fraud.
We all agree preventing fraud and electoral integrity are important, but without evidence that this fraud is actually occurring we are potentially creating a real harm through Bill C-50.
To conclude, I would say the timing of registration is something that could easily be fixed. I know Mr. Kingsley said 30 days. Why not a year or perhaps even longer? You could register at any time potentially in between elections and I think that would be administratively possible.
If attestation as to residence is still going to be required, we should perhaps look at why the person who is attesting for you has to have lived in the same riding as you, because that is potentially artificial restriction that may not mean much on the ground and might restrict the right to vote.
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your questions.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Not often enough in my view.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: It's a great word politically. A lot of moms don't like it though, so I try to be careful. There were buttons that came out not long ago that said keep your stupid tax cut. People didn't like the word stupid.
The whole idea that you could not even apply to vote until the writ is dropped is simply absurd. I would ask Professor Pal if there is anything he can think of that would, from a reasonable, legal.... Forget the rhetoric that I've been giving you, set all that aside. Is there a really good reason why anyone should have to wait until the writ is dropped to apply to be able to exercise their constitutional right?
Michael Pal
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Michael Pal
2015-05-26 12:35
I will leave it to the honourable members to discuss motive and the political side.
I don't think there is a reason to make people wait until the election period. You asked at the beginning of your question whether the system was broken. I don't believe it was.
The two problems were that some people's ballots were coming in too late. I think Mr. Kingsley said that was about 1,000. I don't know the exact number, but that was an issue. Sometimes Elections Canada would send ballots to the wrong address, because they sent it to the address they had on file and someone had subsequently moved to a different address overseas. I don't see how this bill addresses that while also making voting accessible for people who are overseas.
I don't believe the system was broken. It could have been tweaked in some small ways. Absolutely, we should always try to improve the democratic process with the idea of making it as accessible as possible. Why not allow people to register whenever they can and whenever they want? People lead busy lives. We have a crisis of democracy in this country, I think. Not enough people are voting or engaged. Why not try to facilitate the engagement of people, rather than making it more difficult?
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
I appreciate that. I deal with it every day.
The unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation that significant numbers of Canadians possess no identity cards appears to be a legend. But you also say that, digitally, we are not invisible. That's where we agree.
Here's where our opinions may diverge. You are not invisible to the government when it wants to find you.
Dr. Ian Lee: That's right.
Mr. Scott Simms: But, sir, this is an election and when the vote is called, the government doesn't come looking for you. You have to go to the ballot box.
Dr. Ian Lee: Right.
Mr. Scott Simms: There are so many pieces of ID that may be available to people, such as seniors IDs, such as attestations, such as all of this, that it becomes difficult in a short timeframe. We may think five weeks is not a short timeframe, but for people who are not engaged in politics, it's short and it's hard for them to do.
My question is this. One of the things government has done is eliminate the use of the voter information card. It's one of the few federal IDs. Do you not think, in light of this, that would go a long way?
Ian Lee
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Ian Lee
2015-05-26 12:40
I have thought about that. I've voted in every federal election since I turned 18. I voted first, I think, in the 1972 or 1974 election. I was always struck, way before this arose, with how loosey-goosey it was, if I could use slang English. They come to the door. “Are you a citizen?” “Yup.” “Do you live here?” “Yup.” “Put your name down; you're a voter.”
They ask for no ID whatsoever, zero identification.
I think of all the other areas of society. I proctor my own exams, as every professor does, I think, or most professors do. We have to proctor our own exams now because we don't get enough money from our provincial governments to hire proctors. We require—and I went and looked at four universities other than my own—you to bring your photo ID into the exam, because I, at least, cannot remember all the names of all the people in my course. I only have 45 in a fourth-year course. So we require photo ID. That's just to write an exam in a university.
I fly to Europe and China all the time, because I teach in both Europe and China. Every country I go to requires a passport. When people say it's very difficult to go abroad without identification.... If you're abroad as a Canadian, you have a passport and there's an address on it on page 4.
View Ève Péclet Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister.
My first question is about Bill C-23, which was passed and which transfers the Elections Canada Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, responsible for investigations and the management of federal elections, to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, I believe that the 2015-2016 main estimates do not contain any funds or increases specifically for the management of the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
I would like to know if a budget is planned for the administration of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and if so, what that amount is. I do not know what type of budget he had before, but I would like to know if that has been drastically reduced.
View Jim Hillyer Profile
CPC (AB)
View Jim Hillyer Profile
2015-05-07 13:55
You talked about some of the reasons that the current president was elected. How much choice did they have in electing whomever?
Maziar Bahari
View Maziar Bahari Profile
Maziar Bahari
2015-05-07 13:56
There were six or seven candidates. People could choose any of them.
Maziar Bahari
View Maziar Bahari Profile
Maziar Bahari
2015-05-07 13:56
No. That's what I'm saying. He was the best of the bad choices. They had to go through the filter of the Council of Guardians. Of course, many people were rejected, including former presidents. Only these people were available to the people. People were wise enough to vote for the candidate who was least liked by the supreme leader of Iran.
I think what we have to understand about the 2013 election is the fact that Rouhani was elected as the legacy of the 2009 election, and that people came to the streets in millions and protested against the rigging of the election in 2009. The regime did not want a repeat of the same thing and allowed people to vote for the person they elected.
Alan Ka-lun Lung
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Alan Ka-lun Lung
2015-05-07 11:37
Thank you for inviting the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation.
I'm a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, so I am particularly pleased to update the standing committee on the latest situation in Hong Kong.
The first point is on the current situation. There's really no good news to report. The proposed 2017 election reform is widely expected to fail. The bill is unlikely to get the two-thirds majority needed. It's really unfortunate that Hong Kong and Beijing cannot come to an agreement. It is unclear, if this proposal is rejected, how long we will have to wait before further reform for universal suffrage can be restarted under the basic law.
This disagreement is not good for Hong Kong. The consequences are that the political uncertainty that has been troubling Hong Kong for more than 30 years will remain unresolved, Occupy Central or street protest in one form or another will continue, and business confidence in Hong Kong will drop. This is not a good outcome for Hong Kong, for China, or for international interests, particularly business interests, in Hong Kong, and the worst case scenario could even be a script for the beginning of the end of Hong Kong.
What the pan-democrats want is fairly simple, straightforward, and easy to explain to a Western mind. They want genuine universal suffrage with no unreasonable restrictions on the nomination and election process, with a particular focus on no unreasonable screening on the nomination. What's being offered with this bill that has been tabled by the government falls short of this expectation. The government's proposal is a big step forward on the election process—one man, one vote—but a big step backward on the nomination process.
There'll be no TV debate for the pan-democrats this time. They wouldn't be nominated under the current proposal. It is widely expected that, once the bill is passed, there will be little room for reform in the future.
The pan-democrats, however, were not very good at communicating their objection. The advocacy of a total rejection of the 8.31, August 31, decision of the Standing Committee of the NPC is perceived as venomous attack and a rejection of China's sovereignty over Hong Kong—this is the perception coming from Beijing. The pan-democrats also made the mistake of not taking the “national security” of Beijing into consideration in their counter-argument.
From my assessment, what the central government in Beijing wants is that they genuinely—but in an ambiguous way—want the chief executive election proposal to pass. But, as the previous speakers mentioned, they will not give up national security concern as framed by the 8.31 NPC SC decision.
From the experience of the 2012 election by an election committee that will become the nomination committee, conservative forces in Beijing also felt that the chief executive candidates, once nominated, could not be controlled, not even in 2012, by Beijing. So the current one person, one vote proposal, which is sort of promoted as universal suffrage, is indeed a big step forward already and ought to be welcomed by people like me with open arms. Such thinking leads to a conclusion that allowing approved candidates to run in a "universal suffrage" election, almost like the Iranian presidential election system, is the maximum risk that the central government seems to be willing to take for now.
As for the strategy used by the pro-establishment camp to get the bill passed, the pro-establishment camp is prepared to influence or even twist public opinion to pocket the proposal. This is the so-called “pocket it first” strategy. The current strategy is to try to steal four or five votes to get it passed in the current form.
Trying to twist public opinion in this way is really an impossible task. The free press in Hong Kong is already publishing public opinion polls that are more intellectually honest.
In private meetings with foreign consul staff, senior constitutional reform officials in Hong Kong also expressed pessimism about getting the bill passed.
If the bill is passed in its current form by a margin of one vote, the result is not going to be any better. Hong Kong will still be in a very bad mood in July. Approximately 40% of the population, particularly the younger generation, will still feel disenfranchised and betrayed. This is why Occupy Central will keep coming back in one form or another.
As for the influence of the Canadian government, unfortunately, the Canadian government can't really help us because any open criticism of the Chinese government will be regarded as bad foreign influence and meddling in the internal affairs of China. Such meddling could even trigger tighter restrictions on the chief executive election nomination process.
At this moment, the only answer is for Hong Kong to come to an agreement with Beijing on its own about building a wide community consensus on a proposal that allows as close to universal suffrage as possible under the 8.31 NPC-SC decision, such as a joint nomination by the nomination committee and the Legislative Council. It makes it 50% approval of the entire list, but such a proposal is not considered by either side.
There is an optimistic note after painting a gloomy picture. I was told by a Canadian once posted in Hong Kong that the Canadian embassy in Beijing sometimes helps the Chinese government interpret what the Americans say to them. I suppose this is happening because the Chinese government finds it useful to get help to interpret the subtle language or cultural difference between the American and the Chinese. I imagine these things happen behind closed doors, and what was said would never be disclosed to the South China Morning Post.
A senior U.S. diplomat who once spoke at the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation—I think Dalena knows this person well—said to us that if Mikhail Gorbachev had a little piece of Hong Kong, the reform and opening of the Soviet Union could have been more successful.
On the situation in Hong Kong, it is still possible—we don't know yet, because nothing is happening yet—that Beijing may be willing to take a little bit more risk and turn the current “one person, one vote” proposal into genuine universal suffrage that conforms to the 8.31 NPC-SC decision. The outcome would be very different for Hong Kong in July, and for China's reform and opening journey just a little bit down the road.
Thank you.
Simon Young
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Simon Young
2015-05-07 11:46
Thank you, Chairman and honourable members.
Let me begin by saying it's a real honour to be giving evidence today.
A quick word about my background. I'm sure many of you have already detected the North American accent. I'm sure some of the more perceptive of you will have detected the southwestern Ontario accent. So yes, I was raised, not born, in Canada. I went to law school there and qualified. My first job was with the Ministry of the Attorney General in the Crown Law Office-Criminal.
I came back to Hong Kong in 2001 and have been an academic at the university for the past 14 years. Although I teach criminal law in evidence, I do most of my research in Hong Kong—the legal system and the political system. I co-authored a book entitled Electing Hong Kong's Chief Executive.
In these next few minutes I want to focus on and talk about the political reform issue in the proper constitutional context. I think that's very important to appreciate because there are very significant differences from other constitutional regimes—Canada's or others'. I think it's very easy to make certain assumptions about our constitutional regime that may be wrong. So I want to try to highlight what those first principles are in our constitutional regime.
As Ms. Wright has mentioned already, the history of democracy in Hong Kong has been very slow and late, but I wanted to focus this time on the executive leader. Because, of course, before 1997 the executive leader was the governor and there was never any opportunity for Hong Kong people to have any kind of input on the selection of the governor. The governor was chosen by the Queen on the recommendation of her ministers, and, hence, when we come to 1997—the 1984 joint declaration and 1990 Basic Law—you see a major change in this respect because for the first time the idea that the Hong Kong people would have some say in the selection of the chief executive became a reality.
Now, it's important to look at the words of the joint declaration. It doesn't refer to universal suffrage, it does refer to the power of the central government to appoint the chief executive of Hong Kong on the basis of either elections or consultations done locally. Then when it talks about the legislature, it talks about it being constituted by elections, and that's it. It doesn't say anything else about what form or shape those elections will take.
Then we come to the Basic Law, which is our constitutional instrument, so that's six years after the joint declaration. It has 160 articles; it's a fairly long document. It implements the joint declaration and does many other things as well in fleshing out the details. Now, here is where we find the first references to universal suffrage, and in this case we're talking about article 45 for the chief executive.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the idea that however Hong Kong selects the chief executive, it's ultimately for the central government to appoint, and the central government has repeatedly said that's a substantive power, that it's not just a rubber stamp. That is a fundamental feature of our constitutional regime. It's not like Canada where people in provinces vote and elect a premier, and there's no confirmation that has to come from the federal government. Here, there is such a confirmation process.
You have to get the central government to appoint that person who has been selected through elections. I think that is a very important reality we're dealing with, because this is how Beijing looks at it: what if you select someone that we don't approve of or we don't trust? There's going to be a problem, so they're not going to appoint that person. Do it again.
That can't just go on forever. It creates instability, and if you look at the terms of the Basic Law, it promises stability, right? That's very important to the Chinese government. Frankly, it's important to anyone. Hence, that's how they are looking at the situation: “We want someone that you elect that we don't have to turn away. How can we ensure that?” So they focus their attention on the nomination process.
Before I come to the current debate, let's just look at the history of the selection of the chief executive. The Basic Law provides for a system of electing the chief executive through a committee. First it was known as a selection committee, consisting of 400 people. That was the committee that put in place the first chief executive. There was a mini-election amongst those 400 people. It's the so-called small circle election that's often criticized about our system.
That committee grew to 800 people next time around in 2002, but there was no election because no one ran against Mr. C.H. Tung. Again it highlighted the problems of that system, but there was a committee made up of 800 people that had a base of maybe about 200,000, so for the first time you had some public involvement in the choice of that person.
Then there was an opportunity to reform that and to make the committee bigger in 2005, but to do that you had to amend the Basic Law. The amendment formula involves a three-step process. You have to get two-thirds of the legislators, consent of the chief executive, and finally the approval of the central government.
In 2005 when the democrats were given a proposal to try to make that committee a bit bigger, a little bit more “democratic”, the democrats rejected it because they had that veto. That was their first sort of attempt to try to amend the Basic Law.
What was surprising was that people thought that was the end of democracy. What was surprising was that in December 2007 it was Beijing pretty much on their own, but probably with some impetus from the then chief executive Donald Tsang, Beijing in a decision said that they could have democracy of the chief executive in 2017. They also said that they had to do that first before the legislature was going to be democratic.
That takes us then to 2007, the first time we had an election. Then 2012 was when we had the second election. Before 2012 there was another opportunity to amend the Basic Law. Of course, circumstances were different because we now know that in 2017 we may have universal suffrage, so democrats were a bit more willing to compromise. Hence, the election committee was expanded to 1,200.
That takes us to now, because the August 31st decision is a decision that sets down three restrictions. It speaks to Beijing's aim to ensure that whoever ultimately is selected is someone who's not going to confront Beijing. They feel the way to do that is to have very a controlled process over nominations. That's where we come into the fundamental problems we see with society and society's expectation to have a much more democratic system, one that adheres to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, of course, has been implemented in Hong Kong through our bill of rights, and at the same time perhaps not fully understanding the dynamics of what Beijing feels is important when it comes to governance.
That's where we're at. Occupy Central happened and now we're at this, as I think Alan has already explained very clearly, very tragic situation. Both sides are not even talking, not even trying to explore ways in which you can have a more democratic system within the August 31 framework. I'm one of the scholars who have tried many times to propose different ways of maybe having a better balanced system that, on this first attempt, would certainly be an improvement to our existing system and would allow us to move forward. But unfortunately it doesn't look like the two sides have sufficient trust to achieve any kind of progress. That I think is quite unfortunate.
I'll just stop here.
Yves Tiberghien
View Yves Tiberghien Profile
Yves Tiberghien
2015-05-07 12:09
That's a great question.
I'm an optimist on this because already I've seen good quality dialogues happen at UBC, for example. We have students from both, Hong Kong and the mainland, and we have all kinds of diasporas, alumni, and all this. Clearly what Simon and Alan described is that there is even room within the 8.31 agreement. I think everyone here will agree that it's not realistic to expect the NPC to withdraw the 8.31 ruling until at least, I would say, the next party congress in fall 2017, in part because it would put Xi Jinping in a very, very hard position within the party in all this. After 2018, there is maybe hope for a nudge process, but for now that's the constraint. Clearly, there is room, as especially Simon's work has shown, for pushing the boundary of that 8.31 agreement. There's a lack of trust. There is a gap. The two sides in Hong Kong are not getting there.
Yes, I'm an optimist on this. Holding some public forums or nudging local partners and others in Hong Kong, anything that could incubate.... It looks like a place for mediation in the absolute term; then we have to do it the right way. But there must be a better way, as mentioned by Simon, for pushing the boundary.
The other aspect of it, which is something that's in the cart on the Chinese side and the Hong Kong government's side, would be to be very lenient in implementing or running that selection committee. But, of course, on the democrats' side, there's no way to take that as a credible commitment. How can you trust that they will actually...? On the actual selection of the members, yes, there will be 38 constituencies and all that. There is still room for nudging that to make it much more representative, closer to the public. There is room to nudge it, but I think the democrats cannot trust the government to do it. But that's still within the framework as well. Anything that could lead to quality dialogue, to lower a bit the temperature, and really explore all the possibilities to at least make it more comfortable for the 40% of the public and the democrats to support, or to find a way to change that bill and make it supportable....
The alternative, by the way, if we go as we are now, with two trains facing each other, and the bill fails, then in 2017 we would run the old system, which will probably lead to protests in the street and a lot of instability. But China will not budge either. So this is what we're looking at. I still think if we could nudge it a bit, the 2017 package, no matter what—having the one one-man, one-woman vote, having the election actually happen, even if there are only two or three candidates who go through the gauntlet—it would still have a massive impact, a spillover effect, I will call it. It's like when the French did privatization way back when. They did it partially initially, keeping control, right? But even partial privatization changed everything because it brought a whole momentum behind it. So I think that moving with an actual election would still have an enormous positive impact, but it's a matter of finding a way to make it more acceptable.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much.
Thank you to all the witnesses. You're certainly filling gaps in my knowledge.
I only have seven minutes, so I'm going to be fairly quick. I will hope you can be succinct in your remarks, and please don't consider me rude if I interrupt you.
My first question would be to Mr. Young. Has there ever been the notion floated of a compromise approach to this, such that Beijing would provide some nominees and Hong Kong could have its own nominees? Has that ever been put on the table, or is that out of the question?
Simon Young
View Simon Young Profile
Simon Young
2015-05-07 12:13
If any compromise occurs, it has to be within the structure of the nominating committee. In fact, what just came out in April is quite interesting. I don't think people fully grasp the implications of it, because although the composition of this nominating committee is the same as that of the old election committee, the rules of voting are a bit different. It used to be the case that the nominating committee members could only choose one person, whether for nomination or election. This time around you have a low threshold to get people into the race, a 10% threshold—you get 10% votes from the committee. You may have up to five or ten people who then go up before the committee for the vote, to get to 50%.
That's what's interesting. In getting that 50%, for the first time the committee members can actually vote for more than one person, and that's never happened before. I think it's sometimes known as approval voting. What's interesting about it, and the way I've described it in an article, is that you have three types of voters in the nominating committee: those who vote for only pro-establishment people; those who vote for only the pan-democrats; and then those who are prepared to vote for both, maybe with the hope of having a more competitive election.
How big that chunk in the middle is we don't know. We know that those who only vote for the pan-dems may be about 16%. There might be enough there in 34% for a pan-dem to be nominated. There are many unknown questions there.
I think the best thing would be to just try the system, because ultimately it comes back to the question of the composition of that committee. Unfortunately, right now the government is not prepared to change it, but maybe the next time around it could be more liberalized. Maybe it could involve some directly elected members.
So there's lots of room for discussion.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
Mr. Tiberghien, you suggested that perhaps there was not complete unanimity in Beijing itself with respect to how this process should go forward, in that there were conservatives and what I could perhaps call progressives.
Is there any chance that this is going to evolve in the direction of the progressives? Is this something that is a possibility in the years to come, that perhaps, if Beijing is not ready to budge this time, it might at the next election of a chief executive?
Yves Tiberghien
View Yves Tiberghien Profile
Yves Tiberghien
2015-05-07 12:16
Yes, the game is open in the long term.
In the short term we have to remember that Xi Jinping is somewhat in a fight to the death right now. The real “top top” in his mind is to move forward with economic and social reforms to get out of the so-called middle-income trap and the terrible inequality. He has really big problems to solve, but he can't solve them without going after the state-run prices and some big interests.
It's partly to destroy the opposition that his party is using the anti-corruption campaign, but he's the first leader in 30 or 40 years who has taken on at the same time the head of the military, the head of internal security Zhou Yongkang, a major protégé of the previous leader Jiang Zemin. There are people who think that he's actually fighting for his life here. If he makes one wrong move, he could be either assassinated or.... It's a high-risk game right now.
Within that context, I don't think he has much room before the next party congress to give an impression that he's being soft on sovereignty. But after the next party congress, the game is—
Alan Ka-lun Lung
View Alan Ka-lun Lung Profile
Alan Ka-lun Lung
2015-05-07 12:18
The latest poll results appear in the footnote. On April 28th 2015, overall there was 47% support, 38% against, and 16% with no opinion. However, within the 18-29 year-old age group 65% were opposed. So the young people sitting in the back of the chamber are opposed. My son is opposed. They fear the future is being taken away from them.
It's very interesting that 55% of those with a university education are opposed, whereas 55% of those with only a high school education or less are support it. So it's the younger and more educated people who don't like it.
I agree with Yves Tiberghien, the previous witness, that the room hasn't been used fully. Even within the 8.31 NPC-SC decisions, it has not been explored fruitfully.
I'm not saying it must be my proposal, but there is room for improvement. Why is this not being explored by the Hong Kong government itself? Why is it not being negotiated by both sides? We don't know. For example, the proposal I submitted, which was not detailed enough, is that the nomination by the Legislative Council should screen it down to two or three candidates as a requirement of the 8.31 decision. This is effectively party nomination. There's no party law in Hong Kong; there's no way we can get party nomination because there's not enough time to create a party law. But this is effectively a party nomination. This is 100% compliant with ICCPR article 25.
Because the pan-democrats have more than 20 members, they will get in. But also, 50% approval of the list gives Beijing the power of veto with its so-called national security concerns. It really serves to delete a candidate they don't like, but they would have to delete the whole list.
This theory is not our invention; it is an invention by the so-called group of 13 scholar. This proposal of list approval by 50% is actually an economic theory. They call it “game theory” because they think the nomination committee members are totally rational. If one is rejected by the committee, someone acceptable to Beijing could be included the next time before going to election. All this actually conforms to the 8.31 decision.
View Gary Schellenberger Profile
CPC (ON)
We've heard different versions of what might be done, but how would you envision a political compromise regarding election of Hong Kong's administration? Is there room to compromise, and what nomination process might Beijing tolerate that respects the preferences of Hong Kongers?
Dalena Wright
View Dalena Wright Profile
Dalena Wright
2015-05-07 12:42
I think, yes. The answer is it is impossible under current circumstances. China would have to be a different China for democracy to flourish. It's not in the cards any time soon.
If I could just make one point that came up earlier about the early years and about universal suffrage and joint declaration, it should be known that China wanted no mention of elections or future governance in the joint declaration. This is why it remains such a long-term issue. They were taking a snapshot of what Hong Kong was in 1984 and that's what they wanted to continue and figured that governance and institutions would be decided on later in the context of the basic law.
It was Britain who said to China, you cannot get the support of the people in 1984 on the promise that something good will happen four or five years later in the basic law. So they persuaded China to take some language on the subject of democracy or on the subject of future governance and they put forth any number of proposals in that summer of 1984. These were constantly rejected by China. The only reason they got what they got was that the deadline approached in September and the British finally came in with the language and China in desperation took the final version. For that reason it was not well considered, well thought out, or deeply significant language.
To amplify here that what Cradock was referring to in his memoirs was not an agreement to have no democracy by 1997. He was saying that they were not going to get out ahead of what the Chinese were willing to tolerate. But in the context of the basic law, the British did enter the process and did argue vehemently for more directly elected seats to set the bar higher in the years to come. So this is a very complicated history and it gets to your point, which is that it's been iterative since 1984 and it will go on being iterative for some years to come, I fear.
Simon Young
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Simon Young
2015-05-07 12:46
So is it compliant on the letter? Yes. As for the spirit of it, we can go around in circles talking about that. But in terms of the basic law, again I think this is something you have to give China some credit for. They are trying to work with the language of article 45 and the previous decisions of the standing committee. If you look at the language there, it's generally consistent.
One thing I pointed out that is a bit of an anomaly is the two to three candidates. That, of course, is not in the basic law. As I've written, that is driven entirely by expediency. One of my most recent proposals to the pan-democrats is that they should counterpropose increasing that, maybe up to five, because there's a chance they may be able to get past the 50% threshold, but they're not going to be in the top three. They should increase the number of positions.
The two to three candidates is just a matter of expediency, but regarding the majority rule, there is language in article 45, and I can understand why they said that. Of course, the reference to the election committee goes back to one of their earlier decisions. So based on the text, there is consistency.
Alan Ka-lun Lung
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Alan Ka-lun Lung
2015-05-07 12:47
If a proposal, say, barred the Conservative Party of Canada from being nominated, the Conservative party would certainly oppose it.
On complying with the basic law, certainly that compliance...there is a major thing about the system. This is a constitutional issue and I will defer to the professor. It seems to be that even when there's a basic law, NPC has the power to enact new things such as the 8.31 decision and it becomes part of the basic law.
After having said that, even with the 8.31 decision of August 31, the proposal put forward by the government hasn't used up all of the room. It's still a very restrictive proposal. Why? We can only interpret that as a political decision. Even under the 8.31 decision, which is now part of the basic law, political decisions can give more room. A political decision must be negotiated, but no one is putting those negotiations forward—and this is a very graphic way of saying it—because of the experience of the Democratic Party who took the initiative to negotiate, I believe, in 19—
A voice: It was 2010.
Mr. Alan Ka-lun Lung: —yes, it was 2010. They are saying, “You want to me jump out the window”, because if they are perceived by their supporters as having compromised they will not be re-elected. If they ask four people to jump out the window, they won't. They want at least 12 people to jump out together. To get 12 people to jump out together it must be a more lenient, fairer proposal that is closer to what we understand as universal suffrage. Even under the 8.31 decision, which is now part of the basic law—which is why China is saying they will not change it—there is room for improvement.
Ali Alfoneh
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Ali Alfoneh
2015-05-05 13:04
Thank you very much, sir.
Thank you for your kind invitation and providing me with the opportunity to share with the committee my analysis of human rights developments in Iran.
Almost two years into the presidency of Dr. Rouhani, and almost two years after the beginning of the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the west, the human rights situation is unfortunately deteriorating in Iran. Many would think it is counterintuitive. Many would think that nuclear negotiations would be followed by improvement in the state of human rights in Iran. We are seeing the opposite.
The purpose of my presentation today is to try to explain why I believe the latter is the case, and also to indicate the incidents that make the state of human rights worse rather than better compared to the pre-Rouhani, pre-negotiation era.
Just to provide you with my really short analysis, negotiations make the regime in Tehran look weak. Regardless of how small we believe the concessions that Tehran is making to the P5+1 group are, they count for Tehran and make the regime look weak in the eyes of the Iranian public. This is why they're trying to compensate for that perceived weakness with harsher and greater brutality.
Tehran engaged in nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group from a poor bargaining position. The international sanctions regime and eight years of mismanagement under President Ahmadinejad had taken their toll on the economy, which teetered on bankruptcy. Rouhani, of course, ran for president with the promise of improving Iran’s economy. This is why he was elected by the Iranian public. And because Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei understood the sorry state of the economy, he respected the election results and allowed Dr. Rouhani to take over the presidency.
Of course, it was clear to everyone in Iran that it was the bad state of the economy that forced the system to accept and respect the popular vote. It became even more clear to the Iranian public that Iran was weak, when many officials of the Rouhani government, after taking over the government books and gaining fuller access to the state of the economy, found out and admitted in public that the economy they had inherited from Mr. Ahmadinejad was in worse shape than expected.
It was under such dire conditions that on September 17, 2013, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei officially endorsed Dr. Rouhani’s nuclear diplomacy by calling for “heroic flexibility.” Heroic flexibility is something that the regime in Tehran shows when facing the formidable enemy, the United States. It has not shown any flexibility, heroic or otherwise, when facing the Iranian public and the opposition in Iran.
If we take a look at the number of executions in Iran, and I understand that several of our colleagues here today may have newer numbers, at the very least 753 individuals were executed in 2014. This is the highest total recorded in 12 years. Among these executions were 53 public executions. By comparison, there were 580 executions in 2012 and 687 in 2013. Most of the executions were either related to narcotics or homicide, but we certainly believe that the public executions were designed to demonstrate the central government's strength and power. This is all happening during the presidency of Dr. Rouhani.
It's also under the presidency of Dr. Rouhani that the Islamic republic has continued the practice of arbitrary detention of political dissidents. Most notably, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leaders of Iran’s pro-democracy green movement, are still under house arrest and Dr. Rouhani has not done anything to rescue those respected individuals.
One parliamentarian, a certain Ali Motahari has actually used the podium of the parliament to call for their release. But he was severely beaten last month by vigilante groups close to the Basij paramilitary. Motahari and his driver sought refuge at a local police station in Shiraz, but officers simply watched as the mob landed their blows on Mr. Motahari.
The regime has been equally repressive when it comes to the Iranian press. According to Motahari—the same great parliamentarian, who, by the way, is not pro-western and may not even be pro-western democracy, but who is critical of the state of affairs inside Iran—says that there exists an atmosphere of fear among Iranian journalists who exercise a greater degree of self-censorship than in the past. This, too, is hardly surprising when one takes into consideration that 13 journalists and bloggers have been detained over the past year, bringing the total up to 30.
The jailed journalists include Mr. Serajeddin Mirdamadi, who is a distant relative of Supreme Leader Khamenei; Ali Asghar Gharav, who worked at the reformist newspaper, Bahar; and Jason Rezaian of the The Washington Post, of course, who is wrongly being accused by the intelligence organization of the Revolutionary Guards as being a foreign spy.
There are many other journalists. Arya Jafari and four other journalists from ISNA, the Iranian Student News Agency, were arrested in October because they were providing coverage of public protests against acid attacks on women in the city of Isfahan. Jafari has since been released, and we do not know the fate or destiny of his colleagues from that news agency.
Lesser known imprisoned journalists and bloggers include Sajedeh Arabsorkhi, whose father is a civil rights activist, but she herself was actually unknown until she began her activities and was arrested; and also Zahra Ka'abi, Hamid Hekmati, and many younger Iranians who use the Persian-language blogosphere to express their discontent with the regime.
Newspapers themselves have not faired much better. The reformist daily, Roozan, was closed in December 2014 after commemorating the anniversary of the passing of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was a critic of violations of human rights in Iran. This is actually why he lost his position in the structure of power in the Islamic Republic. The weekly, Setareh Sobh, was closed in January after calling for a fair trial of the opposition leaders under house arrest. Another newspaper, Mardom-e Emrooz, was closed and banned because it showed on its front page a photo of American actor George Clooney wearing a lapel pin to honour the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
Suppression of Iranian workers and labour activists is another area of concern. Eight labour union activists are currently in prison for attempting to organize strikes in protest against lacking pay. Many more are in legal limbo awaiting the ruling of the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Just last week, ahead of the May 1 labour day holiday, two more labour leaders were arrested.
Some of the worst human rights abuses, of course, happened to my Iranian compatriots who are followers of the Bahá'í faith. One hundred of them are in prison. The regime in Tehran considers the Bahá'í faith a direct theological challenge and threat to the foundations of the regime. Whenever I hear the foreign minister of Iran, Dr. Javad Zarif, claim that there are no political prisoners, I certainly believe that we should ask him if he considers the followers of the Bahá'í faith anything but political prisoners. The same thing, of course, applies to Muslim converts to Christianity, followers of mystic interpretation, more liberal-minded interpretations of Islam, the Sufi religion. This is something that has worsened during the presidency of Dr. Rouhani.
There are also many reports of arrests of ethnic rights activists, particularly in Kurdistan and Balochistan region. We can discuss this further in the Q and A session.
So, who are the agents of this oppression? Fundamentally, it is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, particularly their intelligence branch, and the Basij militia, which is more or less the youth organization of the Revolutionary Guards, on the one hand, and the intelligence ministry and the revolutionary court, on the other. These institutions have overlapping fields of responsibility, and there is a state of permanent interdepartmental rivalry between them. Sometimes a political activist who has been released by one of these institutions ends up being arrested by another one because of the rivalry that exists between these institutions. Most unfortunately, President Rouhani has not shown any interest in reining in and controlling these institutions.
One of the few things—and this is going to be the last thing I'm going to say right now—that we have seen from Mr. Rouhani is his asking the police not to engage in upholding religious morality on the streets. So the police should only think of law and order, not religion and enforcement of the Sharia law, but he does not do anything to prevent the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militia, and many other groups, vigilante groups in particular, to express what they think is the right and correct way of practising Islam.
Do allow me to thank you all for providing me with this opportunity to testify before your committee. The human rights issue is unfortunately being overshadowed by the nuclear negotiations, but I certainly believe and I do genuinely hope that the work of your committee could put the focus back on the human rights issue.
Thank you.
Mark Lagon
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Mark Lagon
2015-05-05 13:16
Mr. Chairman, honourable Vice-Chair, committee members, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today about human rights in Iran.
Let me start by first commending the Government of Canada, which year after year has been a leader in the UN General Assembly in denouncing the systematic abuses that the Iranian regime commits against its own citizens. Freedom House applauds that effort, and we pledge to work with the Canadian government, as ever, on that.
We're at a different juncture from that we experienced two years ago. International engagement on Iran's nuclear program has given hope to Iranians that they might emerge from decades-long isolation imposed on them by their own government.
Dialogue and diplomacy should always be welcomed, but they aren't ends in themselves. The talks with Iran have unfortunately coincided with deprioritizing and delinking human rights from the global agenda, when they should instead advance the concerns of the Iranian people and ensure that the world share concerning the regime's repression of its citizens.
Two years ago, in a tense environment, Iranians were deciding whether to vote in another deeply flawed election in their own country. In a courageous move, many returned to the polls in an attempt to shed an increasingly repressive eight years under the Ahmadinejad administration and to help avert the spectre of conflict between their country and the West. Some Iranian pragmatist described the choice as one of “the best of the worst” among eight candidates approved by senior clerics.
Hassan Rouhani, the self-proclaimed moderate aligned with leading reformists and supporters of human rights, was elected promising to remove restrictions on speech, advance women's rights, and release dozens of political prisoners. Eighteen months later, Rouhani's campaign promises haven't materialized. Despite the president's rhetoric and some superficial steps, he hasn't delivered on his vows of reform, and the administration is focused almost entirely on the nuclear negotiations.
The country's hardliners have deepened repression. The human rights situation has deteriorated further, whether with respect to gender equality, increasing imprisonment and execution of political opponents, as my colleague here has noted, or crackdowns on freedom of expression and religion.
Iranians continue to demand gender equality but have instead seen further deterioration. Vicious acid attacks against women have gone unpunished, and pending legislation restricts the hours during which women are allowed to work and creates a hierarchy for public sector hiring that would marginalize women, particularly those who aren't married. Other bills would empower employers and members of the religious militia to enforce the government's conservative dress code for women, curb the use of modern contraceptives, outlaw voluntary sterilization, and dismantle state-funded family planning programs.
Since 2013, authorities have banned women from 77 fields of study, effectively reversing hard-earned educational achievements. Another law, passed over the fervent objection of Iran's human rights community, effectively legalizes forced marriage by allowing men to marry girls as young as nine, provided that they are adopted daughters or step-daughters.
Iranian women are banned from watching public sporting events and have campaigned for years against this discriminatory policy. In a sign that international pressure works, warnings by international sporting authorities that would refuse Iran hosting privileges have led officials to signal a possible change. Pressure like that works.
In this context, in an especially ill-informed move on April 10, UN members elected Iran to the board of UN Women, a public embarrassment to the body's efforts to advance women's empowerment.
A second and increasingly blatant violation of human rights is the staggeringly high execution rate. Iran is second only to China in the number of executions it carries out, and that's not per capita, but just as an absolute matter. It leads the world in juvenile executions. Let's look at a comparison. As my colleague noted here, Iran reached its highest level in 12 years last year, with 753 individuals put to death, 53 of whom were publicly executed and 14 of whom were juveniles. Think about this in comparison. Saudi Arabia, which is not attractive in its own record on executions, executed 90 in the last year. The execution rate is even higher—it seems to be 20% higher—in the current calendar year.
Iran holds at least 1,150 political prisoners, with likely far more, given many Iranian families' fear of government reprisals if they come forward. Some of these political prisoners are held in solitary confinement in facilities outside the purview of Iran's formal prison authority. The 2009 presidential candidates and leaders of the green movement remain under house arrest without charge for a fourth year in a row. Just this morning, prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi was arrested for alleged national security crimes as punishment for her peaceful activism in support of abolishing the death penalty.
Iran's media and online environment are among the most repressive in the world. This is a focus of Freedom House work. In 2014, seven newspapers and magazines were shut down, and blogs and news websites were subject to state censorship and filtering. At least 44 Iranian journalists were imprisoned. Of course, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was among them. He's been in prison for nine months under espionage charges.
Iran's conservative Press Supervisory Board recently banned a popular women's magazine that had received a new licence from the Rouhani government after years of being shuttered under the previous government. What was the violation? It was publishing views on the cohabitation of unmarried adults and access to public sporting events by women. How dare they?
Among 65 nations that are studied in Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report, Iran is ranked at the very bottom. Authorities restrict online access to information through control of Internet infrastructure, extensive website filtering, rampant surveillance, and systematic arrests. Millions of websites, including Facebook and Twitter, remain blocked for Iranian citizens.
Last fall, Iran's Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of 30-year old blogger Soheil Arabi for a Facebook post deemed insulting to religious sanctities. Other online offenders were sentenced to between seven and twenty years for blogging, for a technology website, for contributing to a Sufi website, and for a Facebook post deemed blasphemous to the regime.
Religious freedom is also under serious and continued threat. Bahá'ís, Christian converts, Sunnis, and Sufis continue to be targeted and dozens put in prison.
Academic freedom is limited, especially for Bahá'ís and women, but President Rouhani has taken some positive steps to ease repression on university campuses. In 2014, about a dozen student associations were allowed to renew their work after being forcibly shut down under the previous administration, while several new groups have been recently granted permits to operate. However, real reform is unlikely, as the Minister for Science, Research, and Technology, who had lifted restrictions, was impeached by the parliament.
Independent labour unions continue to be banned, and those who participate in protests are fired or summoned to court. At least 230 people were arrested in peaceful labour protests over the last year, and nearly 1,000 were fired in February 2015 for participating in labour protests. Five labour leaders were arrested on the eve of International Workers' Day.
Unfortunately, it appears that these crackdowns will continue. The parliament has introduced new legislation that would further restrict Iranians' rights to expression and association and would enable regime conservatives to control the country's civic and political space ahead of Assembly of Experts and parliamentary elections next year. These measures would bring political parties, journalists, and NGOs firmly under the control of commissions and councils dominated by the hardline authorities and would outlaw any activity that the regime considers harmful to its interests
Indeed elections, which are used in Iran to legitimate theocratic rule, rarely change the country's political reality. They rarely do because unelected institutions—the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, and increasingly the judiciary and security services—effectively have a veto over decisions of elected institutions.
While Khamenei may wish to be viewed as an overarching supreme guide, he is in reality a micro-manager over an expanding web of committees and councils and various organs and branches of the government. Khamenei's appointees control, oversee, and influence socio-cultural, foreign, and economic policy and ensure that policy making is in line with the leader's views and that no centre of power gains more influence than the leader.
Similarly, the country's electoral system is designed to ensure that candidate selection and the entire electoral process are carried out under the authority of the Supreme Leader and not the Ministry of Interior. All candidates for high public office are heavily vetted by the Guardian Council on the basis of subjective criteria and non-transparent procedures. In practice, this means that public officials and political hopefuls are accountable primarily to the Supreme Leader and only secondarily to the electorate.
Iranians have repeatedly attempted to achieve reform through the ballot box and through peaceful protests, but two decades of experience have proven that it will be far more difficult and costly, if not impossible, to achieve it without international support. At this critical juncture, the world must not turn its back on Iran's people's aspirations for democratic reform. Governments engaging with Iran should make clear to Iranian authorities that attention to human rights won't take a back seat to the pursuit of strategic and security co-operation.
Leading human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh said recently, in April, that with regard to the nuclear negotiations, “To think that reaching an international consensus [on nuclear talks] will by itself lead to an opening in the domestic scene...is a mistake”.
Freedom House looks forward to supporting a Canadian-sponsored resolution again in the UN General Assembly. That General Assembly action should urge the Secretary-General to take additional steps to strengthen his office's engagement with Iran. In particular, Freedom House recommends that the Secretary-General appoint a special adviser on Iran, similar to the one Kofi Annan appointed on Burma since 1995 to provide political guidance to Burmese authorities. This would provide access to the country by the UN special rapporteur on Iran and for other special procedures of the UN and would push for full co-operation by the Iranian government with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Further recommendations are as follows.
We hope that Canada will work in conjunction with the United States and Sweden at the UN Human Rights Council next March to build a stronger resolution than what already exists, that passed in 2011 on the human rights situation in Iran.
The mandate of the special rapporteur needs to be given more heft. The rapporteur's access to Iran should be a priority of international diplomacy, and countries with significant populations of Iranian refugees should allow access to their territories by the rapporteur.
As a final recommendation, I want to emphasize that Iranian officials responsible for human rights abuses should be held accountable with targeted sanctions. Even if comprehensive sanctions are lifted in the context of diplomacy on nuclear capabilities, those targeted sanctions would place effective pressure and stigma on those responsible for violating the basic dignity of women and men in Iran. We hope that Canada will join the United States and the EU in applying asset freezes and visa bans on Iranian officials responsible for abuses.
To close, the human rights situation in Iran is abysmal. Canada has been a leader in calling attention to that point. Your annual accountability week at the subcommittee is part of that leadership effort. Human rights respecting nations of both the global north and the global south need to show their solidarity with ordinary Iranians subject to repression by the government. A focus on nuclear talks and understandings doesn't justify sweeping acute human rights abuses under the rug.
Thank you very much.
Audrey Eu
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Audrey Eu
2015-05-05 11:20
Thank you very much, Chair, and honourable members.
I'd like, first of all, to thank the Canadian Parliament for your concern in relation to Hong Kong. I'd also like to thank you for the opportunity you've given me today.
I have prepared speaking notes, which I believe have been put on your desks. I will only summarize a few points.
As you all know, the joint declaration that was signed between the U.K. and China has been endorsed by many countries, including Canada, and it's been registered with the UN. Therefore, the adherence to one country, two systems, Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, and a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong is a matter of international concern.
In my speaking notes, I quoted from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and that shows that we share common aspirations. I am sure we hope that Hong Kong will move forward, maintaining our systems, under one country, two systems, and also maintaining our core values. I also mentioned that Hong Kong people have been waiting and waiting and waiting for the implementation of universal suffrage, which has been promised in the basic law. Each time, our hopes have been dashed. It's been pushed back and pushed back, each time our hopes dashed again. Now we've really come to the crunch time, because we're now preparing for the 2017 election of the Chief Executive. It's really like a pressure cooker being pushed to the limits.
Last year the government carried out consultation. The heading of the consultation was “Let's Talk”. Everybody in Hong Kong talked. We talked about the system we'd like to see, and everybody, obviously, had different ideas. But our hopes were dashed again, because on the 31st of August of last year the National People's Congress Standing Committee came up with what we call the 8-31 decision, which was a straitjacket worse than anybody had ever suggested in Hong Kong. It wasn't a product of Hong Kong discussion or Hong Kong talking. It was imposed upon us by Beijing.
Earlier this month, the SAR government, the Hong Kong government, came up with the proposal that follows, of course, the 8-31 decision. As you've heard, it's really a pre-screening of candidates by a small circle of 1,200, a Beijing-controlled nominating committee. At the end of the day, Hong Kong would only have two to at most three candidates, who are pre-screened by this nominating committee. This will be put to a vote by our legislature, probably by the end of June. According to our basic law, it has to endorsed by a two-thirds majority of our legislature. The pan-democrats hold more than one third, and they have pledged to veto this package, even though for many years, as I've said, we've been waiting.
At the moment, society is extremely polarized. We have something less than half of the people polled thinking, “Look, there's nothing we can do against the Communist government”—they're resigned to our fate—“so let's pocket it first.” That's the term used. But then we also have a very strong percentage, something close to 40%, who say, “Over my dead body.” We know this is not really universal suffrage. We also know that once we pocket it, that means forever. Beijing will say, well, you have reached the ultimate goal of universal suffrage, and that's in accordance with the law.
Either way, whether the legislature is going to pass it or veto it, it's disastrous for Hong Kong because of this polarization and because, as I said earlier, we've been like a pressure cooker, really pushed to the limit.
The government, of course, is blaming everybody except itself. It blames foreign governments, like yours, for interfering. It blames the media for fanning the public. It blames universities and schools, of course, for also turning out students or young people who are not patriotic enough—that means not loving the Communist party. It also blames the judges for not cooperating with the administration.
In my speaking notes, I've explained and I've given some examples of the damage to the rule of law and also press freedom, another of our core values. I'd be pleased to elaborate later if there are any questions.
What can Canada do? I think it can do a lot. The very fact that the Beijing government always criticizes foreign governments for quote-unquote “interference” is an indication that whatever you say matters a great deal. Every voice counts.
Professor Larry Diamond, an eminent U.S. scholar, used George Orwell's language to describe this package proposed for the election of the Chief Executive. My worry is that Hong Kong is really getting into George Orwell days, because nowadays the line between truth and falsehood often seems blurred. I'm also worried that the rule of law will become rule by law, because our government has a habit of quoting law as they interpret it. I also fear that might is right, because whatever those in power say, then that's the right way to go.
Canada, like many other international powers, cannot stand by when universal values are being threatened and when what is really presented as universal suffrage is really not universal suffrage at all.
I endorse everything that has been said before by Mr. Burton and also by Nathan Law. I do look forward to Canada's support to Hong Kong.
Thank you very much.
Audrey Eu
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Audrey Eu
2015-05-05 11:46
First of all, I want to add to what Nathan just said. In a study done by Freedom House, Hong Kong's press freedom dropped to 83. The description now is “partially free”. As well, in my speaking notes I quoted from what the Hong Kong Journalists Association wrote at the beginning of their report.
To answer your question, which is that China seems to disregard what everybody has said and just soldiers forth, I think every voice actually adds up. There will come a time when China can't stand alone if the whole international community is really talking about upholding universal values. China, of course, in pushing forward our election system at the moment, thinks that this is the Chinese way of election. We want to stress that there are universal standards, even though there are no universal models, for election. There are certain universal standards. So even if the international community, which Canada is part of, comes out in unison and says that a particular proposal on the table does not meet with international standards, it's important for China. China wants to be seen as a world power, wants to be seen like everybody else.
It's also important for people in Hong Kong. As I said, just less than half think “There's nothing we can do. Nobody will help us. We just have to pocket whatever is given us.” If the international community comes forward and says that Hong Kong is part of the international community, and it's everybody's duty to uphold international standards, that will be an important message for the Hong Kong people as well.
As I said, I think every voice adds up. Don't give up or don't stop just because you think China is not listening.
Audrey Eu
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Audrey Eu
2015-05-05 11:53
Thank you for the question.
Of course a certain percentage of people in Hong Kong will agree to whatever the Communist party or the central authorities want. In our general election, roughly 55% to, in the good days, maybe 60-odd% would support the pan-democrats or the democratic candidates. But there would always be about 30% to 40% and increasing number who would support the pro-establishment candidates.
Then you see, for this particular election model, it's almost 50%. About 47% to 48% of those people polled say they would accept this election model even though they say they know it's not universal suffrage, or it's not perfect, or it's not ideal.
The reason I say that the pro-establishment forces are doing better and better is that, first, in terms of resources the Communist government has always been helping the pro-establishment candidates, whereas they will always target people who would donate to the democratic parties. For example, there is a newspaper proprietor who is in the habit of donating to democratic parties. His e-mail is hacked, and it's not only just his e-mails in terms of his donations; it's even his e-mails to his wife or his Filipino maid, and how much he's been paying everybody. So there is a lot of pressure on business people not to help democratic candidates or democratic parties.
Also, we have the functional constituencies, which are stacked, basically. You can always plan votes in terms of creating more organizations, unions, corporations. It's always controlled by businesses and so on.
It's very, very difficult to change the current political system and the power structure in the legislature, and obviously for this election. That's why you see Hong Kong people getting more and more disillusioned. That's also why it's so important, as I said earlier in my last answer, for the international community to speak up. It's not only for the Chinese government, it's also for the people of Hong Kong to know that they're not alone in this.
Chi Fung Wong
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Chi Fung Wong
2015-05-05 11:56
I would like to add one point on why nearly half of the Hong Kong citizens would still support the political reform package under the unequal decision made by the Communist party on August 31 last year. It's because the government would actually give the right to every person to vote in the next election. The problem is that the government would like to educate all of the voters that getting the right to vote is equal to getting the right to choose. But actually, if one person one vote is equal to universal suffrage, if this is the standard, then North Korea is also applying universal suffrage.
We hope that more foreign countries or international concerns can voice the truth on the standard for universal suffrage. Getting a right to vote is not equal to getting the right to choose the candidate, since in the next election only the pro-establishment or pro-Beijing people can enter the election to become the candidates for whom we are allowed to vote. That is not true universal suffrage.
View Marc Garneau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
I'd like to ask a question concerning article 45 in the basic law. It says, and I quote: “The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.” I have to admit that “the principle of gradual and orderly progress” sounds like an incredibly vague statement to me. I won't ask you for your definition unless you want to offer it.
Is there anything specific in the basic law or other governing document that says how the Chief Executive nominations are to take place? Is there anything specific about them having to be provided by China, or is it just something that's not stated at all?
Audrey Eu
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Audrey Eu
2015-05-05 11:58
Perhaps I can take this one.
Regarding “gradual and orderly progress,” in fact we are past that. That's been the term used to defer and defer and defer until we finally said we wanted a timetable. We were eventually given a timetable: universal suffrage of election of Chief Executive by 2017, and thereafter universal suffrage of the legislature. That would normally mean 2020.
So we're past that. The actual situation in Hong Kong is very important, because, as I told you earlier, although last year the government pretended to give us a consultation and people in Hong Kong came up with all sorts of models, none of that was taken, not even the most conservative. The model that we're now given is not in accordance with the actual situation in Hong Kong, it's imposed upon us by Beijing.
You asked if there is any other provision in the basic law about the election of the Chief Executive. Actually, there is. Annex I to the basic law lays out the method for the first 10 years, from 1997 to 2007.
Everybody in Hong Kong at the time thought we were going to have universal suffrage of the Chief Executive in 2007, because 10 years down the road we would be ready—“gradual and orderly progress”. Of course, that got pushed another five years and another five years, so 10 years.
The method of election stated in article 45 is that there would be a nominating committee. Then it says that this nominating committee has to be “broadly representative”. Now, that's also a point you have to remember. We don't have a nominating committee. Five years ago there was a decision by the NPC that the nominating committee could be determined or designed in accordance with, or with reference to, the selection committee. But now, with the NPC decision last year, in fact we had a step backwards that basically ordained that the nominating committee had to be exactly in accordance with this selection committee, with the four sectors, and then the 38 subsectors. As I said earlier, the majority of them are Beijing-controlled. The electorate for the nominating committee is only 7%, so it's not broadly representative.
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