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People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Meng Wanzhou at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, on March 6, 2019.

Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

The Canadian government is being urged to do more than issue written condemnation of China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, but a governing Liberal MP says he’s concerned how further action might imperil efforts to free two Canadians locked up by Beijing.

A parliamentary committee holding hearings Tuesday on the deterioration of civil rights in Hong Kong was pressed to support measures that could help Hong Kongers, including offering safe haven to asylum seekers here. Canada has released several statements of concern about Hong Kong and suspended an extradition treaty with the former British colony in July.

“It is not enough to call out Beijing’s violations – it is critically and urgently important to put an end to the extraordinary sense of impunity Beijing continues to enjoy for wide-scale state-sponsored human rights violations,” Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, told the House of Commons special committee on Canada-China relations.

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A number of Canadian advocates for democracy in Hong Kong and human rights campaigners raised the idea of sanctioning Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations there. The United States last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and 10 others.

Canada must resist the temptation to sink into a new cold war with China

They proposed that Canada use the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as the Sergei Magnitsky Law, to sanction officials. It’s named after a Russian tax expert who was tortured and died in a Moscow prison after uncovering fraud in Russia.

Aileen Calverley, the co-founder of British-based Hong Kong Watch, said sanctions could make life difficult for Hong Kong officials, telling MPs the partners of the city’s Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng and Secretary of Education Kevin Yeung have Canadian citizenship, and the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Caspar Tsui Ying-Wai, owns property in Canada.

However, Peter Fragiskatos, a London, Ont., member of Parliament with the governing Liberal Party, raised concerns during Tuesday’s hearings about how tougher action on Hong Kong might anger China and jeopardize Canadian attempts to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The two men were detained by Chinese authorities in what was widely seen as retaliation shortly after Canada arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant. The pair were subsequently charged with espionage and more than 600 days later remain incarcerated.

“If the government of Canada was to move ahead in that direction, I wonder about the consequences for Canadians in China, namely the two Michaels,” Mr. Fragiskatos said.

“If Canada was to take dramatic action along those lines, what is the prospect for those two individuals. ... Is it reasonable to suggest and assume that it would dramatically diminish the prospect of the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor?”

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Alex Neve, secretary-general at Amnesty International Canada, told MPs the best way for Canada to take action is as part of a bigger coalition.

“To go down that road is inevitably going to be much more successful if it’s done on a multilateral basis, that it isn’t just Canada ... as one of a very small handful of states pursuing this,” he said.

The first of several Commons meetings on Hong Kong was held one day after the arrest in Hong Kong of newspaper owner Jimmy Lai, whose Apple Daily publication is sharply critical of Beijing and a major champion of the pro-democracy movement.

The move against Mr. Lai is the latest feature of Beijing’s clampdown against pro-democracy opposition in the city. China imposed a sweeping new security law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.

Davin Wong, director of youth engagement and policy initiatives at Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group of pro-democracy advocates in Canada, pleaded with MPs to consider the deep and long-standing ties between this country and the former British colony.

More than 300,000 Canadians live there and, during the Second World War, nearly 2,000 Canadian soldiers fought and died for the territory – a contribution to the city’s defence that ultimately claimed more than 550.

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Mr. Wong noted the new national security law – which targets “subversion,” “secession” and “collusion with foreign forces” – is extraterritorial, meaning it applies to anyone, anywhere in the world. China has signed extradition treaties with nearly 60 countries around the world and has already issued warrants for six overseas critics under the new Hong Kong national security law.

“This committee should pay attention to Beijing’s long arms and the interference that is already effectively undermining our freedoms in Canada,” he said.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based lawyer, said suspending Canada’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong was a practical move. “Under Beijing’s new security law, the potential for a large number of extradition requests looms large. Charter of Rights challenges to these requests would likely shut down every extradition case, so why bother having the extradition treaty?”

With a report from Reuters

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