A key parliamentary committee has voted to call VFS Global, the company that runs Canada’s visa application centres abroad, to answer questions regarding Chinese police ownership of the facility in Beijing.
The House of Commons committee on citizenship and immigration unanimously agreed to adopt a motion from NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan on Wednesday asking VFS to appear no later than Feb. 24.
VFS Global was not immediately available for comment on the development.
The Commons committee is in the midst of a study on immigration measures that Canada could take to help Hong Kongers fleeing the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown in the former British colony. Ms. Kwan made the case that MPs would benefit from talking to VFS now because applications to migrate to Canada pass through visa application centres.
She noted The Globe and Mail’s reporting earlier this month on the Canadian government’s arrangement in Beijing, where Chinese police own a company that collects details of people applying for visas to Canada.
“This ought to be cause for concern for all committee members and most notably for the people who might be trying to access immigration measures through the visa application centres overseas,” Ms. Kwan said. “The information that visa application centres receive is particularly sensitive.”
As The Globe reported, Canada’s visa application centre in Beijing is operated by Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company, which is owned by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. At least some of the people working inside the centre are members of the Chinese Communist Party, recruited from a school that trains the next generation of party elite.
Beijing Shuangxiong is a subcontractor for VFS Global, a company headquartered in Zurich and Dubai that holds a wide-reaching contract to provide visa-processing services around the world for the Canadian government. VFS offices collect personal and biometric information that is then forwarded to Canadian immigration officials for decisions on who will be granted visas.
VFS spokesman Peter Brun has previously said the Chinese companies it works with “are managed by VFS Global and we ensure they operate entirely according to all VFS Global security processes and protocols, and according to the Canadian government’s visa application process and data protection requirements, which are audited regularly by the Canadian government.”
“Individuals or local companies having a stake in the FMCs [Facility Management Company] that you described have no access to visa application data and no influence on the integrity of the visa-application process as defined by any client government we serve,” Mr. Brun said.
Separately, Hong Kong activists asked Canada, through testimony to the immigration committee, to guarantee that protest-related arrests or charges will not bar residents of the Asian city from seeking asylum or permanent residency here.
They’re also asking Canada to allow would-be political refugees to commence their claims in third countries because of travel restrictions that prevent them from reaching Canadian soil to start the process of seeking asylum.
Nathan Law, currently in political exile in Britain, was one of several high-profile figures in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement who testified Wednesday.
Human-rights advocates and civil-liberties groups have accused Hong Kong authorities of politically motivated arrests and charges in connection with protests that began in mid-2019 over a proposed law to allow extradition to mainland China. More than 10,000 Hong Kongers were arrested, and many subsequently charged with “rioting” and unlawful assembly.
Canada has already promised it would not deny entry to anyone solely for having been charged under the new national-security law enacted June 30, 2020.
But Mr. Law and Joey Siu, an activist with London-based Hong Kong Watch, told MPs that it’s important for Canada to clarify whether protest-related charges in the year leading up to the imposition of the national-security law will represent a barrier to entry.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said that Hong Kongers who were arrested or charged after “taking part in peaceful protests” would not be deemed inadmissible to Canada.
“We want to be unequivocally clear that no Hong Kongers will be prevented from coming to Canada or claiming asylum solely because they have participated in peaceful protests, whether they did so before or after the introduction of the National Security Law,” said Alex Cohen, press secretary to Mr. Mendicino. “Additionally, conduct that is not recognized as an offence under Canadian law is not grounds for inadmissibility. No matter what the charge is, the underlying actions themselves must constitute an offence in Canada to be considered grounds for inadmissibility.”
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