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Anti-government protesters march in Hong Kong, May 24, 2020.LAM YIK FEI/The New York Times News Service

Parliamentarians and human-rights groups, including Amnesty International, are urging Canada to open its doors to people fleeing Hong Kong in the wake of Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law on the former British colony.

They also called on Canadian lawmakers to resume parliamentary hearings on Canada-China relations and to be prepared to slap sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for quashing dissent in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protests had raged for nearly a year in the city before Beijing’s May 21 announcement that it would introduce security law to target subversion and sedition – a measure Canada and allies have warned could be used as a tool for political persecution.

As The Globe and Mail first reported in May, nearly 50 Hong Kong residents, most of them activists who took part in the pro-democracy protests, have already applied for refugee status in Canada.

Human-rights groups and parliamentarians, including Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, say they expect a further exodus from Hong Kong composed of three different streams of people: some of the 300,000 Hongkongers with Canadian citizenship, who comprise Canada’s second-biggest overseas community; Hong Kong residents with relatives in Canada; and finally, people fleeing the crackdown who have no ties to Canada.

“With the passage of the new security law, we can expect more Hongkongers fleeing that city and it is our hope that Canada will welcome those who end up on our shores,” Avvy Go, director of Toronto’s Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said Monday in a webinar organized by human-rights groups.

“Given Canada’s long established history with Hong Kong and the close relationship between the people of these two places, the Canadian government has a moral duty to act."

She said her clinic is getting calls from Canadians who are worried for the safety of their loved ones who remain there. There are more than 500,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent.

The groups are asking Ottawa to be prepared to expedite family sponsorship applications by Canadians for family members arriving from Hong Kong and to expand the program to accommodate a greater variety of relatives. They’re also asking that Canada grant more temporary resident visas for qualified Hongkongers who wish to work and study here – even if the applicants face charges connected to demonstrations back in Hong Kong.

Finally, they said Canada must accept asylum seekers who are facing charges related to their political activities in Hong Kong, warning it’s possible Beijing might use its new legal authority to prevent protesters from leaving the city, including Canadian citizens.

“The time to act is now. As China continues to crack down on the democracy movement in Hong Kong, it may soon find ways to prohibit Hong Kong activists from leaving that city," Ms. Go said. "Even with those who are Canadian citizens, China may refuse to recognize their dual-citizenship status and deny their exit from Hong Kong.”

Details of the new security law are not public yet. China and Hong Kong officials have justified the law as necessary to restore order to a city that has been racked by sometimes violent anti-China, anti-government protests over the past year. They said the laws will only apply to a small number of “troublemakers.”

The Conservative Party’s Mr. Chiu urged the Liberal government to reconstitute the House of Commons’ Special Committee on Canada-China Relations to begin a study on how the country should prepare for a more aggressive China on the world stage. The Liberals and NDP had rejected a motion last week to allow the committee to sit through the summer months to hold hearings on Hong Kong and draft a new policy for engaging with China.

But the NDP reversed course on Monday. NDP MP Heather McPherson said she would like to see the government bring back the Commons’ standing committee on foreign affairs and “we would welcome the return of the Canada-China committee.”

Mr. Chiu also said Canada needs to be ready to impose sanctions – under Canada’s version of the Magnitsky Act – on Chinese officials who are responsible for crushing dissent in Hong Kong. This Canadian law allows for the denial of travel visas and the freezing of bank accounts of people involved in serious human-rights abuses.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said Canada must seek to broaden the list of countries speaking out against China’s actions against Hong Kong. Last week, Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia gave a strong statement urging Beijing to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“We need to expand that community of countries that are going to call upon China to respect democracy in Hong Kong,” Mr. Erskine-Smith said.

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said Ottawa must respond to China’s “power grab” with a careful plan.

“The callous truth is more likely that Beijing has calculated that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic turmoil, governments will be distracted or reluctant to strain trading relationships, and thus not press on this," Mr. Neve 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.

With a report from Reuters

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