Victims of foreign state-sponsored harassment recounted threats of rape, murder and harm to family from supporters of authoritarian governments in Iran, Russia and China on Thursday in an effort to persuade Ottawa to take new steps to fight foreign interference on Canadian soil.
Javad Soleimani, a graduate student from Iran at the University of Alberta’s school of business, said his wife, Elnaz Nabiyi, died on Jan. 8 when the Iranian military shot down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752. She was among the 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and others with connections to Canada who were killed that day.
Mr. Soleimani and several others spoke at a news conference on Thursday to support a new Parliamentary motion that Conservative MP Garnett Genuis has put forward. It calls on the Canadian government to work with provincial, territorial and municipal leaders to combat foreign state interference, and to put in place new measures to deal with it.
He said that after burying his wife and returning to Canada, he criticized the Iranian government online and started receiving messages warning him that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “is able to do anything in Canada and that I better be careful about myself.” He said the head of Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau contacted him via Instagram and “threatened me to remove my Instagram posts in which I had criticized the Iranian regime.” When Mr. Soleimani refused, “Iran’s intelligence service called my family in Iran.”
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minster François-Philippe Champagne advised Canadians to call their local police force if they are being harassed.
But some at Thursday’s press conference said their complaints were bounced from one law enforcement organization to another. All speakers urged Ottawa to set up a national hotline to take complaints of foreign harassment, and a registry to monitor those working in Canada on behalf of foreign governments.
Chemi Lhamo, a Canadian post-secondary student of Tibetan origin, said she received thousands of intimidating messages, including threats of murder and rape, in early 2019, when she campaigned for and won the post of student union president at University of Toronto Scarborough. One said she would be shot and “the bullet that will go through you was made in China.”
Back then, the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, ran a story that said Chinese students at Ms. Lhamo’s university launched an online petition questioning her qualifications to be student union president, citing her social media posts in favour of Tibetan independence. China took control of Tibet in 1950 and later quashed an uprising against Chinese rule.
“I was targeted because of my Tibetan identity,” Ms. Lhamo recalled on Thursday as she urged Ottawa to take further action. “My immigrant parents did not overcome so many obstacles for me to be bullied here.
“No Canadian on Canadian soil should have to check if they are being followed, self-censor themselves because they are scared of what they might have to go through. No Canadian should have to worry about their child being punched, raped or killed for standing up for something they care about.”
Marcus Kolga, a Canadian of Estonian origin and a human rights activist, said he’s faced threats of violence through e-mail and Facebook. He said he took the threats delivered via Facebook to the RCMP “but received the ... runaround.” He went to the York Regional Police, who tracked down the perpetrator.
He said Canada must develop a “national reporting mechanism for victims of political intimidation” in this country. “We should also follow Australia’s example and create a foreign-agents registry for all former civil servants, diplomats and individuals and groups who actively lobby at any level of Canadian government on behalf of malign foreign states such as China, Russia and Iran.”
Last week, the House of Commons passed a motion calling on the Trudeau government to confront the growing threat to Canada’s “national interest and values” posed by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Communist regime. It gave Ottawa 30 days to come up with a plan to combat China’s surveillance and intimidation of Chinese-Canadians in Canada, and to decide whether to allow Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., the Chinese tech giant, to supply equipment to Canada’s 5G wireless networks.
Most members of the governing Liberals voted against the motion, aside from five who voted for it. The Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, NDP and other MPs voted in favour.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said Beijing routinely uses undercover state security officials and “trusted agents,” or proxies, to target members of Canada’s Chinese community in an effort to silence critics of Mr. Xi, including threats of retribution against their families in China.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, the federal spy agency said these illegal activities in Canada are part of a global campaign of intimidation that constitutes a threat to this country’s sovereignty and the safety of Canadians. One of the most high-profile efforts is Operation Fox Hunt, directed by Beijing’s Ministry of Public Security, which has been under way since 2014. It was launched as an anti-corruption campaign, but law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation say its principal aim now is to suppress dissent abroad.
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