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Members of the Hong Kong Police Force march during the ceremonial opening of the legal year at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong, China on Jan. 13, 2020. Amnesty International and other human-rights groups have documented arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and torture by Hong Kong police since mass protests began in mid-2019.NAVESH CHITRAKAR/Reuters

Hong Kong-Canadian activists are urging universities in Canada to take police recruitment ads from the former British colony off their student jobs boards, noting the force has been widely criticized for its brutal handling of mass protests.

They argue the Hong Kong Police Force is discredited and that in carrying the advertisements, the institutions are condoning its conduct.

“Canadian universities should be protecting students from dangerous employers and ensuring that their job boards are not co-opted to enable human rights violations abroad,” a joint statement signed by more than 30 Hong Kong pro-democracy groups in Canada said.

Amnesty International and other human-rights groups have documented arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and torture by Hong Kong police since mass protests began in mid-2019 over proposed legislative changes that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

These protests evolved into demands for greater democracy and autonomy in the face of Beijing’s increasing encroachment on the freedoms it had once guaranteed to the city.

The Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) faces recruitment challenges. The South China Morning Post last month reported nearly that 450 officers quit during the city’s lengthy social unrest and the recent number of new hires fell far short of targets. A poll commissioned by the newspaper late last year found nearly three quarters of respondents said the protests eroded trust in the force.

The city’s police are looking farther afield, including in Canada, where thousands of people from Hong Kong study, and which has hundreds of thousands of speakers of Cantonese – the dominant language in Hong Kong.

Online job boards at postsecondary institutions such as the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia have this month carried ads for the Hong Kong Police force. One recent ad on a University of Toronto Career & Co-Curricular Learning Network web page said the force has a full-time job “available immediately" for entry-level police inspectors who have the strength of character to “take command of a situation.” A similar ad, posted on a UBC Centre for Student Involvement & Careers web page, set an application deadline of June 7.

“By providing the HKPF a platform to recruit, UBC and the University of Toronto are therefore complicit in human rights violations in Hong Kong by aiding and abetting perpetrators of state violence,” the joint statement by Canadian Hongkongers said.

“Authoritarian regimes and their security forces should not be allowed to sustain their oppression by scouting for fresh recruits at Canadian universities.”

Activists have written to the two universities urging them to drop the ads.

Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC, said in a statement that students who have concerns about potential employers should contact the employers directly, adding the institution’s job posting centre is compliant with federal and provincial guidelines for employer recruiting practices. “As always, the decision on whether to apply for a posted employment opportunity rests with our students, who make their career decisions independently. We provide support to students to research organizations and determine if opportunities are aligned with their interests and values."

The University of Toronto, in a statement, said it “encourages all students to look at their own interests and values as they make career decisions about which positions to pursue,” and added that employers can post offers on its job board as long as their practices do not violate federal and provincial laws or university policies.

Hogan Lam, a student with the University of Toronto Hong Kong Extradition Law Awareness Group, said he’s disappointed his university will not remove the ads.

Last week, McMaster University in Hamilton removed similar Hong Kong police job postings after complaints from students.

Alex Neve, secretary-general for Amnesty International Canada, said he is surprised Canadian universities allow the Hong Kong police job ads.

“Any campus across the country should be aware of the fact that there are unresolved and deeply troubling human rights concerns associated with the Hong Kong police response to protests in Hong Kong over the past year,” he said.

He added that if postings are going to be carried by university job boards, they should be “accompanied by recognition and acknowledgment of the well-documented responsibility of Hong Kong police for serious human-rights violations.”

As The Globe and Mail first reported earlier this month, 46 Hong Kong citizens – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations there – are seeking asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police and fear of unjust prosecution.

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