Opposition parties joined forces Wednesday to pass a motion calling on the minority Liberal government to unveil a comprehensive plan within 30 days to fight Chinese state-sponsored harassment and interference against Canadians.
In a rare government defeat in the House, the Conservative motion also called on the government to announce within 30 days whether equipment made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. would be allowed in Canada’s 5G wireless networks. This is a question Ottawa has been studying for more than two years.
Although not binding, the motion, which passed 178 to 146, functions as a declaration of support or purpose. The governing Liberals mostly voted against the motion, aside from a handful including Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Scarborough-Guildwood MP John McKay.
The Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, NDP and other MPs voted in favour. Not all MPs registered a vote.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said the Commons vote is a sign that Canadians want action.
“Canadians expect the Liberal government to uphold our democratic norms and respect the will of Parliament by taking action to defend Canada’s national security and make a decision on Huawei and Canada’s 5G network,” he said, “and by developing a plan to protect Canadians against Communist China’s growing influence operations here at home.”
In responding to the vote, the Liberal government made no commitment to bring forward a plan to further combat Chinese interference and said it requires more time to consider whether to exclude any gear from this country’s 5G networks.
“It is unacceptable for China to interfere in domestic affairs here in Canada as is any intimidation of Canadians, including those of Chinese origin,” a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said.
Press secretary Syrine Khoury said the Liberals felt they could not support a motion calling for a decision on Huawei within 30 days because Ottawa is still studying how best to protect Canadian telecommunication networks without stifling innovation.
Cheuk Kwan, former chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, lauded the opposition parties for taking a stand and criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal caucus for voting against the motion.
“The Liberals have for many years not had a backbone to stand up to China,” he said. “There is no excuse any more. How many more months or years are you going to study the Huawei situation and how many more years [do we] have to tolerate this Chinese influence and interference in our lives?”
Mr. Kwan said some of Canada’s allies have banned Huawei from their 5G networks and he urged the government to follow Australia’s tougher approach to Beijing.
Australia has not only joined the U.S. in banning Huawei’s 5G gear but enacted tough measures to counter Chinese state intimidation and interference in that country’s immigrant community.
“They have done a wonderful of job of recognizing the situation and instituting hard, aggressive legislation to respond to Chinese interference,” he said, including a federal registry to shed light on the work individuals are doing on behalf of China and other foreign states.
The motion came one week after The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned that Chinese state-sponsored harassment in Canada is part of a global campaign of intimidation that constitutes a threat to this country’s sovereignty and the safety of Canadians.
Last week, Mr. Trudeau told reporters “recently we have seen an intensification of the aggressive and coercive diplomatic approach on the part of China.”
Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, said her organization was “pleased this motion passed because it shows there is a really strong urge in Canada for concrete action to be taken by our government to address all these major threats from China, including Huawei.
“The Chinese Communist Party has been taking a very arrogant approach in intimidating and harassing Canadians … they have also conducted a lot of espionage and infiltration here,” she said.
Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said she remains hopeful that the Trudeau government will take the motion seriously. She added that, in recent months, Ottawa has suspended an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, banned weapons sales to the former British colony and opened the door to more Hongkongers becoming Canadian citizens.
But Ms. Wong said the Liberals can no longer sit on the sidelines, as agents of China’s Communist Party make “blatant attempts” to threaten critics of the regime – a campaign she says is widespread.
“There is regular surveillance on Chinese Canadians but the surveillance they exert on Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hongkongers are at a different level,” she said. “Over the past few years, the harassment campaigns have actually targeted specifically on Uyghurs and Tibetans as well as mainland Chinese whose families are back in China.”
Ottawa is being urged to set up a dedicated national hotline where individuals and groups can report intimidation or harassment by agents of China. In addition, CSIS and the RCMP are being encouraged to hold a continuing dialogue with community groups about the various methods that China uses to silence dissent among Hong Kong Canadians and those from mainland China, including Uyghurs and Tibetans.
Alykhan Velshi, vice-president of corporate affairs for Huawei Canada, declined to say whether his company wanted a decision within 30 days. “Huawei has always supported, and continues to support, the Canadian government’s evidence-based review of potential 5G providers.”
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