Canadian MPs will investigate ‘safe haven’ plan for Hongkongers fleeing national security law

24-Oct-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A Canadian parliamentary committee has voted unanimously to investigate providing safe haven to Hongkongers “facing persecution” under the city’s national security law.

The decision by the standing committee on citizenship and immigration comes amid tough rhetoric from China’s ambassador, and growing pressure on the administration of prime minister Justin Trudeau to provide concrete measures to match his Liberal government’s condemnation of the security law.

I think about how I would feel, as a mother. If my children were in that environment [in Hong Kong], what would I do? I would be desperate to get them to safety

Canadian MP Jenny Kwan

Although some Hongkongers who took part in the city’s protest movement have reportedly been granted refugee status in Canada recently, critics said Ottawa has failed to extend specific protections.

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The motion approved by the cross-party committee on Tuesday, was introduced by Hong Kong-born MP Jenny Kwan, of the left-leaning New Democratic Party.

It pledges the committee to “undertake a study to examine special immigration and refugee measures in order to provide a safe haven to the people of Hong Kong facing persecution under the new national security law”. Findings would be reported to parliament, with the government to respond.

Kwan, who represents the electorate of Vancouver East, has been strongly critical of the Hong Kong government’s response to the protest movement that erupted there last year, as well as the national security law, introduced in June. She has spoken at protests in Vancouver in support of the Hong Kong demonstrators.

She said no time frame had been set for the committee’s investigation, but “obviously this in an urgent situation in Hong Kong and it is getting worse by the day”.

Kwan said Canada needed to consider a range of measures to provide “a lifeboat” for Hongkongers, via both the refugee framework and other means, such as broadening criteria for family reunification, accepting more people under student and work visas, and providing new pathways to citizenship.

“I was born in Hong Kong. I love Hong Kong. And it breaks my heart to see what is happening there,” she said, citing the Chinese authorities’ arrest in August of Hong Kong protesters on a speedboat fleeing to Taiwan.

“I think about how I would feel, as a mother. If my children were in that environment, what would I do? I would be desperate to get them to safety,” said Kwan, who moved to Canada as a child with her family in 1976.

Beijing said the new national security law is intended to prevent and punish secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference.

Critics see it is a tool to suppress dissent and erode freedoms in Hong Kong.

They include Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong (ACHK), a group that has supported the protest movement. She called the immigration committee’s decision to investigate providing safe haven “a great start”.

She said the committee should “address how we can remove the barriers to ensure Hongkongers can safely resettle in Canada”.

“We need to move quickly, as the suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong has worsened exponentially during the pandemic,” said Wong, whose group plans to present recommendations to the committee.

In August, Wong and another member of ACHK had testified to the separate special committee on Canada-China relations, telling MPs they feared the extraterritorial reach of the security law, which proscribes actions conducted overseas.

Last week, Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu accused Canada of encouraging “violent criminals” by reportedly granting refugee status to Hong Kong protesters.

Cong also said “the good health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong might be at risk if Ottawa did not change its ways, remarks that were called “unacceptable and disturbing” by Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported earlier this month that a Hong Kong couple who took part in pro-democracy protests had been granted asylum in Canada.

But Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, contrasted Canada’s actions to date with those of countries like Australia.

“The few Hong Kong democracy movement associated people to have been granted [refugee] status in Canada appear to have gone through a normal determination process. I don’t think that’s because of any special government programme. They simply met the criteria [for asylum],” he said.

Burton said Canada had yet to match Australia, which has instituted a policy giving thousands of Hongkongers on student and temporary visas a pathway to permanent residency. Britain, meanwhile, is creating a new visa class for Hong Kong holders of BN(O) passports and close family members, creating a pathway to full British citizenship.

Kwan said Canada was also in a position to grant safe haven to Hongkongers. “Other jurisdictions are undertaking a variety of measures, but here in Canada? The Liberals continue to say they support the people of Hong Kong, with the exception that they have not done anything real and practical to do that,” she said.

Trudeau’s government has been broadly criticised as soft on China, and for having delayed unveiling a new China policy.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have sunk to abysmal levels, dragged down by a host of issues: the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018; China’s subsequent arrest of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what is widely seen in Canada as hostage-taking; spying fears over Huawei’s desire to play a role in building Canada’s 5G internet network; tensions over Hong Kong; and a series of trade rows.

China’s embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Canadian immigration committee’s safe-haven investigation.


Category: Hong Kong

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