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Politics China targeting human-rights activists in Canada, Senate committee told

Alex Neve, secretary-general, Amnesty International Canada speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 30, 2018.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canadians who monitor human-right abuses in China are being targeted by China’s surveillance and spy network, a Senate committee was told Thursday.

Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, warned the Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade that China isn’t only targeting Canadians in China, but also human-rights advocates in Canada.

Mr. Neve alleges that Canadian individuals and organizations – such as the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China – who track human-rights violations in China have come forward with ways they are being targeted, including online surveillance and threats. Those who are targeted don’t know whether to turn to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or municipal police, and Mr. Neve said they rarely receive a coherent response from officials.

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“Not only is this of broad concern for those of us interested in the Canada-China relationship, this has real consequences for people in their ordinary, daily lives,” he said.

The Senate committee received an update on the human-rights situation in Tibet as part of its study on foreign relations and international trade. The committee hearing comes two days after the 30th anniversary of events in Tiananmen Square, and amid rising tensions between Canada and China.

Senators also heard from Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration, who thanked Canada for its efforts and said it is uncommon for a country to hold a formal hearing on the human-rights violations facing the Tibetan people.

“You are sending a clear message to Beijing, and to Tibetans suffering in Tibet, that you are for human rights,” he said.

Mr. Neve advised that Canada’s human-rights advocacy needs support from other countries, which he said are fearful of upsetting China. Too often, he said trade is about economic advancement, rather than human rights, arguing that China’s global influence is to blame for a lack of co-operation from other countries.

“We certainly need a human-rights-based trade policy with respect to China,” he said.

Mr. Sangay told senators that Tibet is the least-free region in the world, second only to Syria as ranked by Freedom House. He said his message has been protested in visits to Lithuania and South Africa, adding that his speech at the University of Toronto in November, 2018, was disrupted by students waving the Chinese flag and singing the Chinese national anthem.

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“The tentacles of the Chinese government [are] everywhere,” he said.

One measure the government could take, Mr. Sangay said, is to grant Canadians access to Tibet without limitations by passing a law similar to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, passed by U.S. congress in 2018.

The law ensures the Chinese government will give Americans visas to travel to Tibet; otherwise, the State Department can deny Chinese visas to the United States.

“Any number of Chinese can come – similar number of Canadians should be allowed to go to Tibet,” Mr. Sangay said.

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