Hong Kong residents who have fled to Canada to escape persecution by the Chinese government want the federal government to establish a dedicated hotline for them to get help when they receive threatening communications, saying the RCMP is not doing enough to assure them of their safety.
Hong Kong Watch, a British-based group whose patrons include Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British territory, last week published a briefing on Hong Kongers facing intimidation in Canada. The report included four case studies in which people who are active in the pro-democracy movement and the Hong Kong community said they were watched or threatened.
The report said all four individuals have reported their experiences to the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. But Katherine Leung, Canadian policy adviser for the advocacy group, said none have received any follow-up communication after reporting the incidents.
“They continue to take extensive precautions to protect themselves and their information,” Ms. Leung said.
The harassing and threatening messages were received by members of the New Hong Kong Culture Club, or NHKCC, a group of Canadian supporters of democracy in Hong Kong that has branches in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The organization has also been dedicated to helping asylum seekers from the Asian territory.
In one case, a core member with the group received a message on the organization’s Telegram channel in February from an anonymous sender suggesting she “have fun” on her planned trip to Japan and adding she should “keep an eye on” her daughter. The report says the member was shocked by the information because her personal travel was not publicly disclosed information.
In another case, an individual received extremely graphic videos, including a woman suffering heavy bleeding after banging her head and a video of a beheading. “Karma for the New Hong Kong Culture Club,” read a caption sent after the videos. This targeted individual also received messages revealing an anonymous sender’s knowledge of her personal life, such as her workplace address and the name of her partner.
These individuals’ names were not disclosed in the report but The Globe and Mail viewed the screenshots of these messages.
The brief also includes the case of Paul Cheng, one of the founders of NHKCC. Mr. Cheng spoke with The Globe and Mail in 2021 about this experience after receiving a threat made against his life. He said he received several messages, including a picture of him from a Calgary protest against the Chinese government. Another message addressed him directly: “Having lots of fun, eh, Paul? Don’t blame me for not reminding you that if you keep stirring up so much stuff, no one will be able to protect you.” It was followed by a video of a beheading.
Mr. Cheng reported the threat to RCMP and police in Calgary, where he resides. Though he filed his case with the police, he was told it’s hard to trace online threats. Mr. Cheng said he understands, but hopes more can be done to make dissidents feel safer in Canada.
Mr. Cheng said he has not received more threats since.
Alan Li, an asylum seeker whom Mr. Cheng has been helping, said after he and his previous landlord had disputes last year, the landlord video-called someone she claimed to be an official at the Chinese consulate in Calgary. The landlord described the tenant as “anti-communist” in that call, Mr. Li said in an interview. He added his landlord was aware he’s a political refugee and resided in Hong Kong for years.
Mr. Li reported the issue to the Calgary police and said he was advised by friends to reach out to RCMP as well. Mr. Li didn’t pursue the case further because he feared it would affect his refugee application.
RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival said in a statement the force has continuing investigations relating to the intimidation of Canadians by representatives of foreign states, including the People’s Republic of China. She said when the police are made aware of an individual or group who complains of threats, they use a number of assessment tools to determine indications of criminality, whether the criminality is within the RCMP’s mandate, and what risk is posed.
Resources are prioritized based on the assessed risk, she said, and various methods and techniques are in place to combat foreign actor interference within the RCMP’s mandate.
Jimmy Cheung, of Winnipeg Hong Kong Concern, said the establishment of a dedicated reporting hotline would help to repel or deter those acting on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
Last August, after Mr. Cheung’s group protested the attendance of Hong Kong police officers at the World Police and Fire Games in Winnipeg, some group members found that their personal information, such as their age and when they came to Canada, appeared in a Beijing-backed newspaper.
Mr. Cheung said members of the RCMP reached out to them last month. “It is a reassuring thing that the law enforcement in Canada actually pays attention to this kind of foreign infiltration or intimidation which is a positive development,” he said.
Besides the establishing the reporting hotline, Ms. Leung’s group is also urging Ottawa to hold hearings and to move forward with the creation of a foreign-agent registry. Similar registries have been adopted in Australia and the U.S. as a means of compelling those acting for a foreign power or entity to declare political-influencing activity or face criminal penalties.
Ms. Leung said her group had an online briefing on these cases with parliamentarians last April.
“Persistency of the problem in itself is reason that we need a hotline,” she said.
“It might not seem like an urgent problem to a government bureaucrat sitting in an office, but as someone who’s receiving messages every day threatening their lives, telling them they know their whereabouts, telling them to either pipe down or they’ll regret it – the urgency is there.”
Conservative MP Greg McLean, who is also the chair of Canada-Hong Kong Parliamentary Friendship Group, heard about the incidents from the advocacy group and those affected directly. He said the government needs to ensure there’s a clear recognition on this issue and those who feel they’re being persecuted should be able to access some security right away.
“We’ve pushed that to date,” he said, “We’ve made no progress on that.”
Mr. McLean said establishing a hotline is important. Instead of going through hours of figuring out the right channel, “having a dedicated hotline with the people on the other end of it completely well versed what the problem and how to get some security mechanisms into play very quickly. This is a good idea,” he said in an interview.