Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's certainly a pleasure to be with the special committee this afternoon or this morning, for any of you who are out west, and to join with my two wonderful colleagues.
There have obviously been many troubling chapters along the road that have brought Hong Kongers to the terrifying reality they face today, which is a rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis that needs decisive and concerted international action. There was the umbrella movement six years ago, and then the courageous protests responding to extradition reform last year, and now the national security law, which Amnesty International has described as follows:
...Beijing's most breathtaking, threatening and callous attack yet...the greatest threat to human rights in the city's recent history.... The aim of Chinese authorities is to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward.
These are, of course, not abstract predictions, given the backdrop of China's long-standing and, frankly, atrocious human rights record, very much in the spotlight currently with the massive, harrowing campaign against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, arrests and unfair trials of human rights lawyers and advocates, ongoing abuses against Tibetans, the crackdown against Falun Gong—now into its 21st year—and, closer to home, eight Canadian prisoners in China of concern to Amnesty International. They include four Canadians who have been sentenced to death; two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested and detained; and two other Canadians, Huseyin Celil and Sun Qian, who are serving lengthy prison terms after deeply unfair trials.
With all of that in mind, we have pointed to 10 chilling reasons to be concerned about Hong Kong's national security law.
First, endangering national security can and does mean virtually anything. Secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces incur maximum penalties of life imprisonment and are so broadly defined that they can easily become catch-all offences.
Second, the law has been abused from day one. People have been arrested for possessing flags, stickers and banners with political slogans. Police and officials have claimed that slogans, T-shirts, songs, and even holding up pieces of white paper endanger national security. The Hong Kong government has declared that “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, a common political slogan during last year’s protests, connotes Hong Kong independence and is forbidden.
Third, the law is all-pervasive, including tightened controls over education, journalism and social media.
Fourth, people could be taken to mainland China for unfair trials, which is precisely what was at stake in last year’s massive protests against extradition reform.
Fifth, the law applies to everyone on the planet—literally everyone, everywhere.
Sixth, investigating authorities have new and extensive powers, including the power to search properties, restrict or prohibit travel, freeze or confiscate assets, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, including intercepting communications. All are without a court order.
Seventh, the Chinese central government is setting up an Office for Safeguarding National Security in the heart of Hong Kong. The office and its staff do not fall under Hong Kong’s jurisdiction.
Eighth, the Hong Kong government has set up a new body, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, including an adviser from the Chinese central government. Its decisions are not subject to court review.
Ninth, human rights protections risk being overridden. The national security law includes a general guarantee to respect human rights but grants immunities and vast exemptions to national security institutions, and it explicitly has precedence over any other laws.
Tenth, the law has already had an immediate, chilling effect. Hong Kongers have shut down their social media accounts, shops and restaurants have removed banners and stickers in support of the protest movement, and public libraries have sorted out books on sensitive issues and those authored by activists critical of the government.
There is little doubt that those grave concerns have indeed been proven out. Current Amnesty International press releases and urgent actions make that abundantly clear. The press releases state that four activists, three male and one female, aged 16 to 21, were arrested two weeks ago under the security law and accused of advocating Hong Kong Kong independence. As well, 12 pro-democracy candidates, including Joshua Wong, were disqualified from running in Hong Kong’s now-delayed Legislative Council elections. Among other grounds offered to justify this is that objecting to the recently enacted national security law demonstrates that they could not genuinely uphold their constitutional duty as lawmakers.
Most recent, of course, was yesterday's national security arrest of well-known democracy activist Agnes Chow, accused of inciting secession, and prominent publisher Jimmy Lai, two of his sons, and staff of his newspaper, the Apple Daily, for “colluding with foreign powers”.
Faced with this mounting crisis, here are five quick suggestions as to where Canada should focus its efforts.
First, multilateralism is key, and the wider and more diverse the coalition of states prepared to speak out about concerns, the more effective. Canada has done so on a number of occasions over the past year with respect to the crisis in Hong Kong and other concerns in China, including endorsing a joint oral statement from 28 governments at the UN Human Rights Council on June 30, and Minister Champagne joining counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States in a statement of concern about Hong Kong two days ago. Broadening the group of states prepared to exert public pressure on China should be a strong focus for Canada.
Second, staying with multilateralism, Canada should actively pursue action within the UN human rights system. A public statement issued on June 26 by 50 UN independent human rights experts lays out a range of options, for instance, for moves that could be attempted at the UN Human Rights Council, the next session of which gets under way on September 14.
Third, Canada is well placed to lead international readiness for the prospect that many Hong Kongers may be forced to flee as refugees. The geography of Hong Kong is such that, unlike many refugee situations around the world, they clearly cannot escape across the most immediate border, that being China. People needing to flee will be in many different situations, including individuals with citizenship in other countries, such as over 300,000 Canadians residing in Hong Kong; individuals who are not citizens but have close family and other links to Canada or other countries; and those who have no strong connection with any other countries. Canada should be working to prepare arrangements to receive, potentially, a large number of Canadians who may be forced to leave Hong Kong suddenly, and should also be collaborating with other governments to prepare a well-coordinated response to wider refugee needs.
Fourth, Canada should be looking at options under Canadian law and policy to exert greater pressure directly. Human rights concerns in general, as well as with respect to Hong Kong, should be prioritized in all dealings with China, not just between diplomats but across all bilateral exchanges, including trade and investment. Extradition arrangements with Hong Kong have been suspended, and the transfer of sensitive security equipment has been tightened up. The government has been pressed by a sizable group of MPs and senators to consider sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act. In considering any and all further steps, it's advisable to prioritize measures that can be advanced multilaterally, in concert with other governments.
Finally, let me bring this very close to home. Amnesty International is part of the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, made up of 15 organizations here in Canada. On behalf of the coalition, we have prepared two reports over the past three years that document a disturbing and intensifying pattern of intimidation, interference and threats against human rights defenders who are based here and are involved in campaigning with respect to human rights concerns in China. The individuals responsible for these abuses are linked to, or at least encouraged and lauded by, Chinese government officials. Our most recent report, provided to the Canadian government in March of this year and released publicly in May, notes that over the past year, individuals supportive of the movement for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong in particular have been targeted relentlessly, including at demonstrations and through social media.
In 2017 and again this year, the coalition made numerous recommendations to the Canadian government for more effective action to protect human rights defenders in this country from these abuses, focusing on the need for more coordination among police, security, and government agencies and departments. To our considerable disappointment, we have had little response. Individuals experiencing these instances of interference and threats, including threats of sexual and other physical violence and threats against family members in Hong Kong or China, are largely left without effective recourse, often unsure where to turn and what to expect.
It may be a considerable challenge to counter China's influence on the world stage and it may be difficult to exert pressure for human rights reform on the ground in China, but there is no excuse for a failure to take robust and decisive steps to counter human rights abuses that may be linked to or backed by Beijing, that are connected to what is happening in Hong Kong and that take place here in Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.