An all-party parliamentary committee studying how Canada should respond to Beijing’s crackdown on civil rights in Hong Kong is urging the federal government to work with allies in slapping sanctions on the Chinese officials responsible.
The House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, convened after Beijing locked up two Canadians on what Ottawa considers trumped-up charges, released a report Thursday that also calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, where residents are denied a direct say in who runs the city.
That’s a challenge to the Chinese Communist Party, which controls the nominations for the top political post in Hong Kong – that of chief executive – and has begun barring pro-democracy politicians from seeking office.
In reference to warnings of Chinese state interference in Canada, the report also urges Ottawa to start scrutinizing the activities of China’s diplomats here. China has roughly 160 diplomatically protected staff accredited to work in Canada, almost as many as the United States does.
“In light of the allegations of threats and intimidation against people in Canada supporting human rights and democracy in Hong Kong, the government of Canada [should] carefully review accredited diplomatic personnel in the People’s Republic of China’s diplomatic missions to Canada,” the report says.
The Chinese Communist Party last June imposed a sweeping new national security law on Hong Kong, which had been a British colony for more than 150 years. Ostensibly to target secession, subversion and terrorism, the law contains vaguely defined offences that critics say effectively criminalize dissent and opposition.
Western countries, including Canada, have accused China’s one-party state of breaking a 1984 treaty in which Beijing pledged to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy, civil rights and rule of law for 50 years after its handover in 1997. About 300,000 Canadian citizens live in Hong Kong.
Authorities in Hong Kong have conducted sweeping arrests of most of the city’s remaining opposition figures and activists.
The report calls on Ottawa to apply “targeted sanctions” against Chinese or Hong Kong officials “responsible for, or complicit in gross violations of human rights, freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong.” It proposes using Magnitsky-style sanctions – named after a Russian whistleblower – that freeze assets and deny financial services to target officials.
The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the territory’s current and former police chiefs and eight other top officials.
The Commons report, endorsed by committee members from the minority Liberal government, the Conservative Party, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, also calls for stronger immigration measures to help Hong Kongers fleeing Beijing’s clampdown.
MPs are calling on Ottawa to loosen family-reunification rules; it’s harder for Canadians who are not a spouse, partner or child to sponsor relatives hoping to immigrate to Canada.
The crackdown on political opposition in Hong Kong has prompted many pro-democracy dissidents to seek a way out, but COVID-19 travel restrictions do not make it easy for them to board a plane to Western countries. Canada has granted political asylum to at least 14 Hong Kong dissidents, but they arrived before the pandemic hit.
Ottawa has already come up with an immigration program to attract recent graduates and skilled Hong Kongers but MPs say it’s not enough.
“We expect a stronger response,” NDP foreign-affairs critic Jack Harris said.
The Conservative Party wanted to add several more recommendations to the report but could not get sufficient approval from the other parties.
These included asking Ottawa whether it is appropriate for former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin to sit on Hong Kong’s highest appellate court.
In 2018, Ms. McLachlin agreed to a three-year term on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
But the imposition of China’s national-security law, which erodes Hong Kong’s freedoms and rule of law, has already prompted another foreign judge, James Spigelman of Australia, to step down from the Court of Final Appeal.
Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong and human-rights critic Garnett Genuis said they also wished the committee’s report had called for a plan to stop Beijing from interfering with people and organizations on Canadian soil.
They noted that witnesses who testified before the committee described increased targeting and bullying of Canadian supporters of democracy in Hong Kong, “particularly through instruments of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The Conservative MPs said “Canada’s government must ensure the safety and security of all people in Canada, including those who are vocal about human rights and democracy abroad, by finally bringing forward a robust plan to respond to foreign-state-backed interference.”
With a report from Reuters
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