Canada ‘feels a chill’ in HK, but has no plans to create new asylum pathways for those who flee, says envoy

12-May-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Canada is not planning new pathways to asylum for Hongkongers who flee the city, as it has well-developed processes to deal with those claiming political persecution, according to the country’s top local diplomat.

Jeff Nankivell, the outgoing consul general to Hong Kong and Macau, also told the Post in a farewell interview that the consulate’s work had been affected by the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing last June.

Some Hong Kong politicians had become reluctant to engage with his office since the law was introduced, banning acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The 300,000-strong Canadian community in the city also had concerns about whether the law would affect them, he said, especially with the ongoing case of two Canadians detained in mainland China on spying charges.

However, veteran diplomat Nankivell, his country’s envoy to the city since 2016, added that he did not see any exodus of Canadians, one of the largest groups of expatriates in Hong Kong.

Canada, like Britain, Australia and other Western countries, has been highly critical of the national security law and Beijing’s tightening grip over Hong Kong, including its recent overhaul of the city’s electoral system.

Last November, Canada made it easier for Hongkongers to move there, with new visa rules that allow Hong Kong graduates of universities outside Canada to apply for a three-year work permit.

Canada’s immigration ministry said more than 500 applications were received in the first three weeks after the new work permit programme started in February.

Nankivell said there was “a lot of interest” in the scheme and Canada expected more applications with the new batch of graduates this summer, and if Covid-19 travel restrictions eased.

He said Canada’s series of special immigration measures were carefully coordinated and prime minister Justin Trudeau’s administration had no plans for new asylum pathways for Hongkongers.

“We don’t have specific programmes on top of the existing channels when it comes to people who may wish to seek asylum,” he said.

“If people have been accused or convicted of a crime that is political in nature and something that is not an offence in Canada, that would not be a reason for not allowing them to come.”

Out of more than 25,000 refugee protection claims made in Canada last year, 21 were from Hong Kong, according to official data. There were no such claims from Hong Kong in 2019 or earlier.

Canada has recently become a destination for Hong Kong opposition figures fleeing the city.

Former Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told Canadian media last month that he had returned to the country where he was born, and intended regaining Canadian citizenship.

Former university student union leader Ernie Chow Shue-fung also surfaced there last month, amid fears of his impending arrest.

‘Potential risks for Canadians’

On the impact of the national security law, Nankivell said that since last summer, the consulate’s work was affected by a “campaign of intimidation” initiated by certain politicians and state-owned media in Hong Kong.

“We have definitely noticed a chill that affects the interactions we can have with people in Hong Kong society, and a reluctance of some people in Hong Kong society to engage with us not everybody, but some who we could freely engage in the past,” he said. “That’s a pity. It’s something we regret very much.”

Last month, a Hong Kong judge denied bail to former Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, who was charged with subversion under the national security law, after learning that Tam was invited repeatedly to the United States consulate “for coffee”.

Nankivell said some Canadians in Hong Kong were worried that they might lose their common law protection if the security law was used against them, as it gives China’s national security office in the city jurisdiction over “complex” or “serious” cases.

The country’s relations with China hit a new low after Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were accused of spying and detained shortly after Chinese national Meng Wanzhou, a top Huawei Technologies executive, was arrested in Vancouver in 2018 following a US extradition request.

Nankivell said that case, and the national security law in Hong Kong, meant “potential risks for any Canadian”, and more Canadian businesses in the city had begun scrutinising their data protection practices.

Although he said he did not see any flight of Canadian capital from Hong Kong, latest data from FINTRAC, Canada’s financial intelligence unit, showed that capital flows from the city to the country climbed to their highest levels on record last year, with about C$43.6 billion (US$34.8 billion) in electronic funds transfers.

Asked about Canada’s possible next moves in relation to Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, Nankivell would only say: “We have frequently taken measures together with other countries who share our concerns.”

In a joint statement in March, foreign ministers of the G7 nations including Canada expressed grave concern at Beijing’s drastic changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, saying the moves would stifle political pluralism and reduce freedom of speech.

Nankivell leaves Hong Kong later this month after serving two postings in the city and three in Beijing over the past 30 years.

“I’ll be reluctant to leave. I’ll still have Hong Kong in my heart and will follow very closely what goes on here,” he said.


Category: Hong Kong

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