Canada begins accepting Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as refugees

Welcome and likely the start of a future wave:

Canada has begun accepting Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as refugees, a sign that this country is opening its doors to those fleeing Beijing’s crackdown on civil rights in the former British colony.

In a Sept. 1 letter, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada notified a married couple from Hong Kong, both in their early 30s, that the refugee protection division has determined they are “Convention refugees” and their claims for asylum have been accepted.

Under Canadian law, a “Convention refugee” refers to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and is defined as someone who cannot return to their home “due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion” or other factors.

The Globe And Mail spoke to the Hong Kong couple, who originally arrived in Canada last December, but is withholding reporting certain details of their cases because they fear retribution against themselves or families back in Hong Kong by agents of the Chinese Communist Party. The Globe is also granting them confidentiality for the same reason.

The Hong Kong man, 33, who has been accepted as a refugee, said he was a very active protester in the pro-democracy movement in the Asian city, including with a well-known political party that put pressure on the local government to implement universal suffrage. He and his wife, 30, also took to street protests in 2019 amid mass demonstrations that followed efforts by Hong Kong’s leadership to enact legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China.

The man said he was on the front lines of demonstrations in 2019 and ran a warehouse to produce defensive equipment for protesters. He said he was at one point detained by Chinese authorities – they were not wearing uniforms – and Hong Kong police followed him and searched his home, but he was never charged.

He said near the end of his time in Hong Kong, fearful for his safety, he ended up hiding in a cave under a building.

Now, with asylum in Canada, he said: “It feels now like I no longer need to hide, and I am finally somewhere I can live safely.”

He said he is very thankful for Canada’s decision, a country he said shares common values with Hong Kongers.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who is not representing them, said he believes these two Hong Kongers are among the first pro-democracy activists to be granted asylum. He said he believes a few others may have already obtained refugee status as well.

“These are the first of a small number,” Mr. Kurland, based in Vancouver, said. “This is like the starter’s gun.”

He said accepting refugees from Hong Kong, however, is an indictment of the Asian city’s justice system, which still retains the legacy of institutional frameworks from Britain, despite Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China under a one-country, two-systems formula.

“By implication, the Canadian refugee determination system has put the Hong Kong judicial system into disrepute. The person has no internal flight alternative, and cannot reasonably rely upon Hong Kong’s judicial structure for protection.”

The Globe reported earlier this year that close to 50 Hong Kongers – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that began last year – have already applied for asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police in Hong Kong and fear of unjust prosecution.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada must do more than just “accept a handful” of asylum seekers from Hong Kong, where a harsh new security law was imposed by Beijing this summer – one that criminalizes dissent and opposition.

“Processing a handful of asylum claims from those fleeing Hong Kong is not commensurate to the crisis that is unfolding there,” he said. “Canada needs to do more to provide a path for those seeking asylum from the imposition of China’s draconian new national security law.”

Mr. Chong said Canada should work with allies, such as Britain, to admit many more Hong Kongers fleeing. There is no reason why Canada couldn’t follow the British lead by offering a path to citizenship to Hong Kong residents, he said.

Hong Kongers coming to Canada would enrich the country because “they are highly educated” and would provide immense economic benefit, he added.

Avvy Go of Toronto’s Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic said it’s urgent to act now to help the people of Hong Kong.

“The situation is getting worse. More and more people have been arrested. It is clear the Hong Kong government is not going back down. … We need [to] act now before they arrest more people and their passports are seized,” she said.

Mr. Kurland said he still expects a surge of immigration from Hong Kong and more refugee claims. Canada has not yet unveiled special measures to facilitate migration from Hong Kong. He said Ottawa appears to be keeping this in abeyance until “things turn urgent and you see a wave of claimants from Hong Kong.”

Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, an international champion of human rights, urged the Trudeau government to grant asylum to any Hong Kong resident seeking to escape China’s draconian national security law.

“I wouldn’t be limiting it to two. This has been such a serious assault on democracy for the national security legislation that impacts on everyone … and puts anyone in Canada who supports them at risk so we need to have a response that says we are here to protect those who we are able to protect and to facilitate their coming to Canada,” he said.

The Hong Kong couple accepted as refugees received the support of a Canadian group called New Hong Kong Cultural Club.


ICYMI: How do you screen beliefs? The troublesome task of testing for ‘anti-Canadian values’ – Wherry

Good overview along with good questions on how would you actually administer a values test by Aaron Wherry:

When Kellie Leitch, one of four candidates officially seeking the leadership of the Conservative party, was first reported to have asked her supporters whether immigrants to this country should be screened for “anti-Canadian values,” it was tempting to assume she believed that prospective citizens should be handed a cup of Tim Hortons coffee, sent to a professional hockey game and made to at least pretend that they were enjoying themselves.

But, as it turns out, the “anti-Canadian values” Leitch believes new immigrants should be checked for include “intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”

And this, Leitch explained in a statement on Friday, is “a policy proposal that I feel very strongly about.”

Indeed, she later enthused to her supporters that, “We are going to have an open discussion about what Canadian values are and what they are not.”

“If you are tired of feeling like we can’t discuss what our Canadian values are, then please help me to fight back by making a donation,” she added.

So as to assist those who feel like this can’t be discussed, let’s discuss it.

Precedents for a values test

Leitch’s proposal is not without precedents.

Two weeks ago, noted wall-enthusiast Donald Trump suggested that those hoping to become American citizens would undergo ideological screening, hearkening back to a Cold War policy that was meant to keep communists out.

“Those who do not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country,” he said. “Only those who we expect to flourish in our country and to embrace a tolerant American society should be issued visas.”

Belgium recently began to require that non-European migrants sign a pledge committing themselves to certain “values.”

In Canada, we do present potential citizens with a guide that explains our history and speaks of values, but we do not then check to make sure every newcomer believes fully and completely in each and every one of those ideals.

At the moment, it is not clear how Leitch imagines we should.

How would we screen for beliefs?

Would immigrants be asked to confirm their agreement with a series of statements about equality? How would we know they were telling the truth? Would we hook them up to a lie detector? Would we have public servants checking Twitter histories and Facebook profiles for evidence of intolerance or unacceptable views?

Are we comfortable with the idea of regulating beliefs? Who defines the values and how they will be measured? How specific would we get?

Would immigrants have to be fully supportive of same-sex marriage? (To pick a right that Conservative party members have only just come around to not opposing and which some current Canadian citizens still don’t support.) What about transgender rights? (To pick an issue that Parliament will soon be considering.)

What constitutes an intolerance for economic freedom? Would that rule out socialists? What about anyone with an inclination to vote for the NDP?

What great benefit would we derive from the effort? And what would be the effect of such a test?

We might, for instance, imagine that living in Canada could open the mind of a homophobe, or at least provide his or her children with a good atmosphere in which to grow up.

But, while we’re on the topic, what of the bigots and misogynists who were born here?

What problem does this mean to solve?

But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us go back to the premise, or at least try to understand what it might be.

What problem does this debate over Canadian values mean to solve? Are great hordes of bigots and misogynists entering our country at present? Are their beliefs having some kind of deleterious impact on our society? Are we faced with some kind of threat that must be dealt with?

The implication that we are is inherent in Leitch’s idea: That immigrants with “anti-Canadian values” are coming to this country. That Canada is faced with a meaningful problem. That even though we have become a tolerant, pluralistic society alongside decades of mass immigration (and despite whatever prejudices were held by our naturally born citizens and new arrivals), we are somehow now in need of greater protection.

That is a troubling suggestion to leave hanging in the air as thousands of newcomers continue to try to settle into our country. We should not uncarefully implicate an entire class of people.

“This suggestion, that some immigrants are ‘anti-Canadian’, does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada,” Michael Chong, a fellow leadership candidate, said in a statement on Friday. “The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper’s former director of policy, to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics.‎”

(Interim Leader Rona Ambrose has since joined Chong in questioning Leitch’s proposal, noting there are already criminal background checks for potential immigrants.)

Does someone wearing a niqab make us vulnerable?

The suggestion of a threat also suggests a vulnerability.

In this way, screening for anti-Canadian values seems similar to the previous government’s fretting about some women wearing the niqab during the citizenship oath.

We might not like what we imagine the niqab to represent, just as we might not like the idea of anyone with even a single misogynistic, bigoted or homophobic thought making a home in this country.

But we might believe that we are collectively strong enough to welcome a vast array of beliefs and practices without losing ourselves. That we are not so fragile or weak.

That, in contradiction to the implication found in Donald Trump’s proposal, our best and noblest ideas will prevail and win out. And that our values might indeed spread, as newcomers arrive and settle here.

If some of us are worried, we might try to understand why. But we might decide that a proper Canadian value is to not be fearful.

Source: How do you screen beliefs? The troublesome task of testing for ‘anti-Canadian values’ – Politics – CBC News