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Pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting speaks to reporters outside the main chamber of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Nov. 12, 2020.ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

The Canadian government denounced China for removing four pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature but gave no indication of whether it would unveil a special plan to grant asylum to those who want to flee the former British colony.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne condemned Beijing’s ouster of the legislators, calling it a “further assault” on the civil liberties and autonomy China promised to grant Hong Kong for 50 years after the territory was handed over by Britain in 1997. China signed an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, committing to this non-intervention policy.

“We are deeply disappointed that China has chosen to break its international obligations,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said in a statement.

Mr. Champagne released his statement after Hong Kong’s local government, acting on the approval of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, moved against one of the territory’s few remaining vestiges of political opposition. The remainder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers – all 15 – said Wednesday that they would then resign en masse to protest what one of them, Claudia Mo, called the “death knell” of democracy in the city.

Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators hand in resignations

“This decision further narrows Hong Kong’s autonomy and the space for freedom of expression and public participation in governance in Hong Kong,” Mr. Champagne said. He said the ouster demonstrates a “concerning disregard for Hong Kong’s Basic Law," the constitution drafted by Britain and China before the handover, as well as the “the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong."

Opposition MPs, however, questioned why Ottawa has yet to produce a plan to help bring Hong Kongers to Canada. There are strong ties between Canada and Hong Kong. Several hundred thousand Canadians trace their origins to Hong Kong, and another 300,000 citizens split their time between Canada and Hong Kong.

Back in July, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at special measures to bring in people from Hong Kong, telling reporters “we are also looking at additional measures, including around immigration" to address the matter. But his government has never elaborated on this. Britain, meanwhile, has unveiled a path to citizenship for nearly three million Hong Kongers. Australia announced new visa arrangements to help Hong Kong passport holders stay in Australia.

“I think the Liberal government needs to put in place a clear expedited path for political refugees fleeing Hong Kong for Canada,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said.

He said what Beijing has done, ordering the removal of legislators deemed disloyal to China, is a “complete violation" of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

China’s envoy to Canada last month appeared to threaten the Trudeau government. Ambassador Cong Peiwu warned against granting asylum to pro-democracy dissidents from Hong Kong, saying such action could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians living in the Asian city.

The Canadian government has often said it prefers the safety of numbers and would like to take action jointly with allies instead of independently.

Mr. Chong said Canada needs to “take action jointly where possible and unilaterally where necessary,” saying “we need to back up what we’ve been saying about China and Hong Kong with hard actions.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday when asked whether it intends to introduce a plan for Hong Kong refugees. As The Globe and Mail first reported, there are more than 45 Hong Kongers who arrived in Canada before the pandemic hit and have applied for asylum. But many more are stranded in Hong Kong, unable to flee because of travel restrictions.

Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said the federal government officials have privately pledged to help fleeing Hong Kongers and she urged them to act soon.

“We were promised a safe haven plan for Hong Kongers, including immigration and asylum pathways. The Chinese Communist Party has accelerated plans to crush Hong Kong and the people’s hopes for democratic reform; we do not have the luxury of time. We know the government is capable to mobilize quickly, and we look to Canada to show leadership once again,” Ms. Wong said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Canada is “long overdue" to help Hong Kongers. “They can’t just be all talk and no action," she said of the Liberal government.

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