Skip to main content

Miss World Canada 2015 Anastasia Lin from Toronto.Sabrina Liu

China has belatedly declared Canada's Miss World candidate persona non grata, ending Anastasia Lin's long suffering over whether she would be allowed to enter the country and participate in the 2015 pageant, which has already commenced in the seaside resort of Sanya.

The pronouncement, e-mailed to The Globe and Mail by a spokesman from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, may snuff out or fuel a controversy that has been percolating for six months. Responding to a Globe and Mail query about Ms. Lin's status, an embassy spokesman said: "China does not allow any persona non grata to come to China."

Yundong Yang did not mention Ms. Lin by name, but said it was his country's sovereign prerogative to make such decisions, adding that, "I simply do not understand why some people pay special attention to this matter and have raised it repeatedly."

A 25-year-old actress and University of Toronto graduate, Ms. Lin was vocal about Chinese political repression before and after her coronation as Miss World Canada last May in Vancouver.

The question after her victory last spring was whether the authoritarian host country would send her the visa that would allow her to take part in the international event. Even after the Nov. 20 deadline for entry had passed, Ms. Lin thought she had an outside chance of an invitation, but on Tuesday night the mystery was put to rest.

Ms. Lin could not be reached for reaction, but a friend said the Chinese authorities have never told Ms. Lin she is unwelcome. "And if that is the case," the friend said, "we'd like to know on what grounds this decision has been made."

Political soapboxes are not novel in the Miss World organization, the motto of which is "Beauty with Purpose." One activist in a tiara was Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the Iranian-Canadian contestant who campaigned against human rights abuses in her former country, and was first runner-up – in Sanya, no less – in 2003. But Ms. Lin's own campaign to conquer Sanya took pageantry and politics to a new level of brazenness.

She took loud and direct aim at the host country's politics, and many contest-watchers and Sino-watchers believed a visa from Beijing was a long shot. But Ms. Lin's campaign has reached symbolic heights, and become a bellwether of how Ottawa approaches China and addresses the rights of Canadians to speak their minds about their former countries.

Ms. Lin has said that on account of her advocacy for political and spiritual tolerance in Communist China, police back home have harassed her family there, a harrowing plight echoed by many outspoken expats on Canadian soil. Now a practitioner of Falun Gong – a spiritual group outlawed and heavily persecuted in China – Ms. Lin moved to Canada in her teens with her mother. Her father remained in China, started a new family and built a business, and Ms. Lin believes a big deal he was putting together fell through after critical articles about her appeared in the Chinese media.

Her claims are not uncommon. "Numerous activists – Tibetans, Falun Gong and Uyghurs – all have personal accounts of family members, friends or associates who've felt some kind of pressure abroad that's related to people here," Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said in an interview. "It's extremely worrying."

In a statement sent to The Globe last spring, the Harper government encouraged Ms. Lin's efforts and said it took threats against family members abroad seriously. In contrast, the Trudeau government said it could not comment on China's visa decisions, adding, however, that the promotion of human rights remains a priority in its relationship with the Middle Kingdom.

"No recent governments have a monopoly on ducking the issue, but it's important that this not be our response," Mr. Neve said. "When the human rights of Canadian citizens are at stake, this concern has to go to the top of the list."

Interact with The Globe