A former Ontario cabinet minister, who held the province’s immigration and international trade portfolios under two Liberal premiers, has denounced acts of violence during the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as the work of foreign actors intent on undermining the state of China.
Former MPP Michael Chan, in a recent interview with Chinanews, a Chinese state-backed news site, condemned the city’s anti-government protesters and applauded Hong Kong police for showing restraint in the crisis.
His assertions echo the statements by Chinese officials as the protest movement in Hong Kong gathered steam. China has blamed “foreign forces” for manipulating the protests and interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
“I have been thinking, why are these young people so radical, so passionate [and] committed to do these things? And why so many people?” Mr. Chan said in an interview with Chinanews that was published earlier this month.
“If there is no deeply hidden organization in this, or deeply hidden push from the outside, there is no way that such large-scale turmoil would happen in Hong Kong in a few months.”
Mr. Chan served in various portfolios for the Ontario Liberals, including as immigration minister, during his tenure in office between 2007 and 2018.
Last week, in an article posted on Mr. Chan’s public WeChat social-media account, he is quoted as suggesting demonstrators have been trying to enlist the Japanese for help with their cause. The article is titled “Exclusive interview with Michael Chan: Guerrilla actions.”
He said in the article that Japanese media reported an interview with a Hong Kong protest leader who travelled to Japan and mused that “Japan could send a self-defence force on the grounds that they could protect the overseas Japanese.” Mr. Chan went on to say the report was strongly condemned by Hong Kong residents and added that the protest leader has denied ever saying such things.
The protester Mr. Chan referred to, Agnes Chow Ting, stated on her social-media accounts on Sept. 5 that she made no such claims and demanded the Japanese media delete the report.
Any reference to a Japanese military presence in Hong Kong is especially inflammatory among the Chinese community, because of Japan’s brutal treatment of Chinese citizens during the Second World War.
“That protest leader is actually taking the initiative to ask the Japanese army to occupy Hong Kong again in order to guard … ‘freedom and democracy.’ This is incomprehensible,” the article on Mr. Chan’s WeChat page said.
This article was also published under Mr. Chan’s byline at 51.ca, a prominent Chinese-language online publication in Canada.
Efforts to reach Mr. Chan through his public WeChat account were not successful.
Repeated calls and e-mails to Mr. Chan’s lawyers and workplace were not returned to The Globe and Mail. According to the Seneca College website, Mr. Chan sits on the board of governors.
In 2010, Mr. Chan was considered so close to the Chinese consulate in Toronto that Canada’s intelligence agency feared he was at risk of being unduly influenced by foreign officials. A senior intelligence official later met the province’s top bureaucrat to formally caution the province about the minister’s conduct and the risk of foreign influence.
Dalton McGuinty, who was then premier, dismissed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s concerns as baseless and kept Mr. Chan in cabinet. His successor, Kathleen Wynne, similarly dismissed the concerns and said the federal spy agency’s suspicions lacked substance.
CSIS’s concerns about Mr. Chan were never disclosed publicly at the time, nor was Mr. Chan named as the subject of the CSIS briefing. They were revealed in a 2015 report by The Globe.
When asked earlier this September about Mr. Chan’s interview with Chinanews, Ms. Wynne said she hadn’t spoken to Mr. Chan “for months.”
“We are no longer part of a caucus; I haven’t spoken to him for some time. He is a trusted colleague, but I have not had a conversation with him about the issues in Hong Kong, in China.”
After the Globe article appeared in 2015, Mr. Chan said CSIS’s concerns were “ludicrous” and “totally false” and he brought a legal action against The Globe.
“There is a persistent theme that there is a perceived risk that I am under undue influence and that I am an unwitting dupe of a foreign government,” he wrote in an open letter. “This is offensive and totally false.”
When he left politics last year, Mr. Chan joined the law firm Miller Thomson. A spokesperson for the firm said earlier this month that Mr. Chan no longer worked there.
In the Chinanews article, Mr. Chan said the violence in the movement in Hong Kong has been severe, and if there were similar unrest in Western countries, police would have “already fired bullets toward crowds.”
Protesters have accused Hong Kong police of excessive use of force, but Mr. Chan disagreed.
“It’s the opposite,” he stated. He said the restraint and courage of Hong Kong police should be praised, according to the article.
The months of unrest in the Chinese-governed, semi-autonomous city were prompted by a bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Many saw the extradition bill as an erosion of rights promised under a “one country, two systems” framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The bill was first suspended, but after the tensions in the city kept escalating, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced on Sept. 4 that the government would withdraw the bill.
Hong Kong protesters have said the bill’s withdrawal was too little, too late.
In other remarks in the Chinanews interview, Mr. Chan noted about 300,000 Canadians are living in Hong Kong.
"If the system in Hong Kong is really that unfree, undemocratic, feeble, and bad, then why do these 300,000 (Canadians) live there?
“One country, two systems will not change. If whoever says Hong Kong wants to be independent and separated, then there is no discussion needed. Hong Kong belongs to China. This is unnegotiable."
Some Chinese Canadians, especially those who have ties to Hong Kong, found Mr. Chan’s remarks appalling.
Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, said Mr. Chan’s remarks sound like the Chinese regime’s propaganda.
“It’s very clear that he is not using Canadian values nor the universal values of Western democracies in making all these comments. Rather, he abides by the values of the Chinese Communist Party,” Ms. Fung said. “That is troublesome.”
It was not the first time Mr. Chan publicly supported China’s stand on the Hong Kong issue. Last month, Mr. Chan spoke at a rally in Markham, Ont., expressing support for Hong Kong police, the government and Beijing.
Ms. Fung, who also lives in the Toronto area, said although Mr. Chan has stepped down from the political arena, he is still actively engaged in pro-China events.
The rally, organized by the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations, attracted a few hundred attendees from the Chinese community. Online pictures and videos show leaflets resembling the Liberal Party’s old paid membership forms were distributed at the event.
Braeden Caley, spokesman for the Liberal Party of Canada, said the party had no involvement at the event. He said Mr. Chan has no formal role in the federal party.
The area that Mr. Chan once represented provincially is now held federally by Small Business Minister Mary Ng. A spokeswoman for Ms. Ng said the minister was aware of the rally, but declined to comment on whether Mr. Chan’s views are shared by many of Ms. Ng’s constituents.
Ms. Ng said in a statement that it is important that the situation in Hong Kong be de-escalated, and there is a diversity of views among Chinese Canadians as to how this can happen.