A “mounting” trend of alleged systemic human rights abuses, harassment and intimidation against Canadian citizens by covert China-backed entities — who have infiltrated politics, media, social media and academia — requires a significant government response, according to the world’s foremost human rights organization.
Amnesty International and activists from the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China (CCHRC) are calling for a review of Canadian laws to address foreign agents and influence campaigns, as it presently relates to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) alleged actions in Canada targeting human rights and pro-democracy advocates — largely from the Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Tibetan, Falun Gong and Uighur diasporas, also known as the Chinese Communist Party’s “five poisons” who threaten the regime’s stability.
Set against a backdrop of rising tensions between the two countries and an all-time low in public opinion of China, the joint Amnesty-CCHRC report outlines some of the most egregious behaviour alleged by Canadian citizens of Chinese ethnicity who have openly expressed their critical political views on China’s communist regime.
The report asserts how “increasingly, the Chinese government has made direct and explicit appeals to ethnic Chinese individuals living overseas, urging them to, ‘remember the call from the [Communist] Party and the People, spread China’s voice, support the country’s development, safeguard national interests,’” according to Chinese government media outlet China Daily on August 30, 2018.
Compliant groups or individuals here in Canada, who have chosen to side with the interests of the CCP, either voluntarily or through coerced efforts, may then harass and intimidate dissidents. Many Chinese-Canadian groups operate covertly but under the auspices of Chinese government propaganda arms the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and the United Front Work Department, the report states.
The report asserts how there are “tell-tale” signs of Chinese government involvement, such as a July 2019 Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver ad in Chinese language newspapers informing readers that “Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s internal affairs; and we oppose any foreign interference.”
“Chinese state actors have almost certainly become emboldened by the inadequate responses of Canadian officials (and officials in other countries faced with similar concerns), as incidents of interference have become increasingly pervasive,” the report states.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, told an online panel Tuesday that Canada’s response “has been deeply disappointing.”
Other countries, such as the United States and Australia, and in Europe, have foreign agent legislation. Canada does not, said Neve.
While legislation can pose other unintended consequences, Neve said it is “time to assess a tailor-made approach for Canada that doesn’t infringe upon freedom of expression.”
Certainly, said Neve, Canada needs to reform some of its laws. This gap has allowed the CCP to ramp up efforts against its political enemies in Canada, the report asserts. The gap has also left a significant portion of Canada’s population feeling abandoned, Neve said.
“Largely now, individuals don’t even bother pursuing recourse and don’t bother — with some exceptions — but don’t bother reporting things to the police, or trying to figure out which intelligence agency might or might not be interested, because there is such little action,” he said.
Sheng Xue, of the Federation for a Democratic China, echoed Neve, saying, “I think our police officers, RCMP and CSIS need more clear direction on how to deal with foreign influences. Probably most of them don’t know how to deal with [this]. Each department just pushes me to another one.”
Neve said a gap in enforcement protocol, let alone legislation, is particularly problematic as “these last three years,” since the last Amnesty report on the subject, “have been very worrying with a noticeable intensification of threats and harassment.”
Neve has called for Canada to conduct an independent public inquiry or investigation into the methods of interference, abuse and harassment by Beijing-friendly groups and individuals.
“To date, responses from Canadian authorities have been piecemeal and largely ineffective in compiling a comprehensive picture of what is happening and addressing the source of the intimidation and harassment faced by human rights defenders,” the report said.
The report also outlines various concerns raised by the Chinese diasporas who advocate against the authoritarian regime’s actions in their country of origin.
Prominent Tibetan-Canadian student leader Chemi Lhamo alleges harassment by pro-Beijing Chinese students on her Toronto campus.
“Members of our community are self-censoring for the fear of going through what I had to go through,” Lhamo told the online panel.
“It’s us here today but tomorrow it could be all of us including you and your families. It’s time to hold China accountable for their human rights violations and start caring about Canadians and their well-being,” she said.
Likewise, Uighur Canadians have reported similar bullying tactics.
“Uighur individuals living in Canada have faced threats of retaliation against their relatives in Xinjiang as a result of their activism. Chinese state agents have also engaged in deceitful attempts to lure Uighurs living abroad back to China. Uighurs in Canada have been unable to seek out information about family members, who have presumably been arrested and detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, due to fears of retaliation by the Chinese state,” the report states.
As well, pro-democracy Chinese-Canadians, particularly those with ties to Taiwan and, more prominently now, Hong Kong, have reported facing pro-CCP tactics meant to undermine and quiet a person’s viewpoints in their community.
“The recent pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong have spilled over into Canada. Compelling evidence has pointed to coordination and organization between protestors and Chinese officials in these incidents. Demonstrators fear retaliation by Chinese authorities, given credible reports of Chinese state surveillance overseas and harassment of pro-democracy protestors’ family members in China,” the report states.
And of particular concern to Canada’s institutions is the education sector.
“China uses international students as a weapon in dealing with universities and high schools,” said Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China.
“We all know what type of revenue stream these international students generate. And it’s an existential threat to a lot of our universities who are dependent on international student fees to survive in view of provincial education cuts,” asserted Kwan.
According to the National Post, in a presentation to Canada’s top university administrators in the spring of 2018, CSIS director David Vigneault said China represents “the most significant and clear” challenge when it comes to espionage targeting Canadian campuses.
The report highlights concerns about Chinese-government backed Confucius Institutes operating in Canada. Neve called on provinces to review their relationships.
In B.C., Minister of Education Rob Fleming has declined to address the Coquitlam School District’s contract with the Confucius Institute, unlike in New Brunswick, where the provincial government in 2019 cancelled such high school arrangements, as the report notes.
Amnesty is also calling on Canada to “reassess broader economic and trade ties with China on an ongoing basis to ensure that speaking out on persistent human rights concerns is a priority in the bilateral relationship and that ties between the countries pertaining to technology research and development initiatives do not make Canadian public institutions, organizations or private entities complicit in Chinese human rights violations.”
Sino-Canadian relations have been strained in recent years, first with the controversial, but delayed, decision to allow Huawei into Canada’s 5G communications network, followed by the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 at the behest of a U.S. extradition request.
Meng’s arrest resulted in the imprisonment of former Canadian diplomat Michael Korvig and businessman Michael Spavor and death sentences of Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei followed those arrests.
Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit home in Canada, resulting in further damage to the diplomatic relationship as Canadians seek answers to China’s response to the novel coronavirus — this despite Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu repeatedly defending China’s response, going so far to tell reporters that U.S. intelligence reports feed “online conspiracies.”
On Wednesday the Angus Reid Institute reported Canadian favourability towards China is at an all-time low of 14%.
“The deterioration” of views on China by Canadians, stated Angus Reid, “comes as Beijing faces accusations from United States intelligence that it intentionally hid the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the early days of the pandemic.”
More than four-in-five (85%) Canadians say the Chinese government has not been honest about what has happened in its own country.