Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to give evidence today.
My academic work at NYU focuses on authoritarian abuses of law in Hong Kong and elsewhere. I'm also a Canadian citizen of Hong Kong origin, and I practised law in Hong Kong for several years.
You've already heard at length from other witnesses about developments in Hong Kong. I want to underscore the specific importance of these events to Canada. Although my remarks focus on the national security law, or NSL, I should emphasize that other developments, such as the growing politicization of the civil service and widespread impunity in the uniformed services, are also deeply troubling. I will gladly address these topics in questioning.
I will make three points today. First, events in Hong Kong are bad for Canadian businesses operating there; second, events in Hong Kong are bad for Canadian citizens, both inside and outside of Hong Kong; and third, events in Hong Kong directly implicate Canadian foreign policy priorities.
One of the main attractions of Hong Kong for Canadian businesses is the perception that it maintains the rule of law. This is ultimately about not being subject to arbitrary exercises of state power, and it is about being able to anticipate with reasonable certainty what you can or cannot do.
The NSL imposes a parallel legal system on Hong Kong, one with poorly defined offences, unaccountable secret police and harsh penalties. This system will displace the normal legal system whenever the authorities invoke “national security”. Simply put, whether normal law applies to you depends on the whim of the state. Even normal administrative institutions that businesses rely upon, such as the Companies Registry, have been politically captured. Since 2014, several opposition parties, including Joshua Wong's party, Demosisto, have been denied corporate registration, hampering their ability to rent offices or raise funds.
For at least three reasons, political apathy will not protect the business community. First, businesses in Hong Kong face tremendous political pressure to support the NSL publicly. Second, businesses will be forced to choose between complying with the NSL and complying with other regulatory regimes, including U.S. sanctions. Third, normal business matters may increasingly be characterized as implicating national security. For instance, any financial analyst whose conclusions could be interpreted as undermining public confidence in the Hong Kong or Beijing governments may be at risk of being prosecuted under the NSL.
Numerous chambers of commerce opposed the rendition bill in 2019 because they feared anyone present in or transiting through Hong Kong would be rendered to the mainland and subjected to its criminal law system. Having largely failed to bring people in Hong Kong within the reach of mainland criminal law, Beijing has brought mainland criminal law to them.
Events in Hong Kong also have grave consequences for Canadian citizens, whether or not they currently live in Hong Kong. There are over 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, and all of them must now live in fear of the possible consequences of violating the NSL, which includes being rendered to mainland China, prosecuted in mainland courts and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Even a brief reading of the NSL will reveal that it defines its offences in extremely broad terms. In the circumstances, there can be no meaningful certainty as to what will or will not be treated as an NSL violation. When the Chinese authorities assert, as they have done repeatedly, that the NSL will only be used against a small number of people, they are implicitly admitting that they have extremely broad enforcement discretion, yet they have said very little about how that discretion will be exercised or regulated. This is antithetical to the rule of law.
The chilling effects of the NSL also extend to Canadian citizens within Canada. As has already been noted by other witnesses, the NSL encompasses acts done outside Hong Kong by people who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong. Consequently, any Canadian who might have to travel to Hong Kong, transit through Hong Kong or take a flight operated by a Hong Kong-based airline now faces considerable pressure to self-censor. Canadian citizens like me should be able to participate in the Canadian political process without fearing reprisals if they travel to or through Hong Kong.
Canadian citizens of Hong Kong descent are at particular risk. Many of them, particularly those living in Hong Kong, are also deemed to be PRC nationals under PRC law. As the PRC does not recognize dual citizenship, these individuals are at risk of being denied consular access in the event that they are detained in Hong Kong.
Evidence also suggests that the PRC has coerced individuals into renouncing foreign citizenship or claims to consular assistance. On June 30 of this year, a PRC court sentenced Sun Qian, a Canadian citizen, to eight years in prison for being a Falun Gong practitioner. She purported to renounce Canadian citizenship in the process, likely due to coercion by Chinese authorities. Similarly, Hong Kong-based booksellers Gui Minhai and Lee Bo, citizens of Sweden and the U.K. respectively, have also purported to renounce foreign citizenship in circumstances suggesting duress.
Canadian citizens with ties to Hong Kong must now consider whether what they say in Canada will be used against them in the event they so much as set foot on a Hong Kong-registered airliner. In addition, protests in Canada expressing support for Hong Kong have been met with counterprotests and provocateurs, and their participants subjected to harassment and intimidation. PRC consular officials in this country have publicly praised such acts of retaliation.
Events in Hong Kong also have implications for Canadian foreign policy.
First, the NSL will inhibit the Canadian government’s ability to obtain accurate information about developments in Hong Kong and China. Any Canadian citizen based in Hong Kong may face prosecution for doing what I am doing today.
Second, China's conduct in Hong Kong reflects poorly on its willingness to abide by other international commitments. Since 2014 mainland and Hong Kong officials have publicly and repeatedly declared the Sino-British Joint Declaration to be a dead letter, even though it remains in force until 2047. The failure of the international community, Canada included, to condemn these repudiations has contributed to the climate of impunity under which the PRC now operates in Hong Kong. Against that background, one might reasonably wonder whether the PRC will abide by its other bilateral and multilateral commitments.
Third and most significantly, the ongoing events in Hong Kong are an acid test for Canada’s willingness to uphold its commitments.
For the reasons I have set out, the situation in Hong Kong threatens the personal safety of Canadian citizens in Hong Kong and in Canada. It also imperils Canadian businesses in Hong Kong. This country has an obligation to protect them. Perhaps more importantly, how Canada reacts to developments in Hong Kong will speak volumes as to who we are and what values we share. Our government has publicly committed to revitalising the rules-based international order in conjunction with regional, bilateral and multilateral partners. I hope whatever steps the special committee recommends, and whatever steps the government ultimately chooses to take, will live up to these stated commitments to multilateralism and the rule of law.
I will now be happy to take questions and to deliver supplemental written answers, if need be.