Thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, Hong Kong is home to a large Canadian community. The ties with Canada are broad and deep.
In the past 18 months, this city of such importance to Canada has experienced dramatic political, social and legal change. Throughout this period, the Government of Canada, including our team of 150 staff at the Consulate General of Canada, has worked with a particular focus in two areas.
One is raising Canada's concerns about threats to the integrity of Hong Kong's institutions, human rights and rule of law under the one country, two systems framework. The other is attending to the well-being of Hong Kong's huge community of Canadian citizens to ensure that their safety, freedom and ability to prosper are maintained.
The committee has already heard extensively about Hong Kongers standing up for their human rights during seven months of extraordinary demonstrations in 2019. You've also heard how the national security law was imposed on Hong Kong by China’s National People's Congress in a secretive process fundamentally at odds with common law principles.
Canada and other countries have noted that the law contravenes Hong Kong's Basic Law, China's treaty obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong's commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The committee has heard about deeply concerning aspects of the new law from leading legal experts. The Government of Canada shares their concerns, and I would be happy to elaborate.
In response to the imposition and implementation of the national security law, Canada has taken a number of actions, including the following.
First, we updated our travel advice for Hong Kong to warn of the new risk of arbitrary detention and possible removal to mainland China on national security grounds. Each time this advice is updated, we email the Canadians on our consular registration list and publicize the advice through our consulate Facebook page, which now has over 49,000 followers, and through extensive presentations to Canadian community organizations.
Second, Canada was the first of nine countries to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Third, Canada’s export controls were amended on July 7 to treat the export of sensitive goods to Hong Kong in the same manner as goods destined for mainland China.
Fourth, working closely with like-minded countries in Hong Kong, in Beijing, across capitals and at the United Nations, Canada has issued a series of statements on Hong Kong, at the level of minister or higher. There's been at least one such high-level statement every month from April through August, and again in October.
We have also consistently raised these concerns directly, in private and public meetings, with representatives of the Hong Kong government and with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Hong Kong and Ottawa. In doing so, we have at every opportunity also called for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and clemency for Robert Schellenberg, and have questioned publicly whether such arbitrary actions in mainland China could happen in Hong Kong under the National Security Law.
We continue to engage with local civil society organizations, political leaders, activists, legal experts, academics and journalists to gather their views on the local situation. We also continue to work to advance Canadian human rights priorities and values through local programming, as we have done for many years.
Consulate General staff have also attended key court hearings of pro-democracy activists and political leaders, in coordination with colleagues from the European Union.
In terms of engaging and assisting Canadians, I would add that since the outset of last year’s period of civil unrest, we have undertaken a range of actions to address the risks faced by Canadians. We provided direct consular assistance to Canadians. Since June 2019, our team has responded to 204 requests for consular service arising from the civil unrest, ranging from simple enquiries to visits to Canadians in hospital and in prison.
As the civil unrest became widespread in July 2019, and with the assistance of Global Affairs Canada's emergency-planning experts, the Consulate General built on our evergreen emergency-response plans to prepare detailed plans for new contingencies that could arise. We also brought in staff from around the world on temporary assignments to provide surge support during the peak period of the civil unrest.
We regularly advised Canadians in Hong Kong on the possibility of large-scale street clashes, and shared those messages proactively through our registration of Canadians abroad and social media channels. Throughout this 18-month period, and with a renewed push since the advent of the National Security Law, we have engaged with the Canadian business community, both with individual companies and with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, to share perspectives on the evolving situation and to see how our trade commissioner service could be of assistance to them.
I look forward to providing greater detail on these and any other issues of interest to the committee.
I thank you for inviting me.