Hong Kong is under attack and Canada lies dormant
When we think of the past, it is easy to imagine ourselves in the boots of righteous rebels and martyrs, fighting to the end against all odds in pursuit of noble goals like democracy.
We would like to be Lafayette, sailing across the Atlantic from France to the United States to help those with little more than a fighting chance to establish a constitutional republic. We would not like to imagine ourselves as the United States some years later, hearing constant calls from Lafayette for help in establishing democracy in France, standing on the sidelines doing little to help.
Today, on the issue of Hong Kong, Canada is no Lafayette. Canada instead stands on the sidelines.
Hong Kong was a colony of Britain until 1997. The British common law tradition had found its way into Hong Kong during this colonial period. Hongkongers enjoy many freedoms that we have in Canada, including freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble. The courts also have independence and the media is not watched over by authoritarian bureaucratic bodies.
The issue of autonomy from China is the cause of so much debate on the Hong Kong issue. Though China promised that they would extend Hong Kong’s autonomy for fifty years beyond the end of colonial relations, they have not followed through.
There were some early signs that conflict would occur. In 2012, for example, China tried to legislate on the curriculum of Hong Kong schools. This was met with backlash and peaceful student-led protests. The conflict would escalate beginning in 2019.
In 2019 Hongkongers were faced with a challenge. A suspected criminal had entered Hong Kong after visiting Taiwan, where he was accused of murder. Should they extradite him, Hong Kong may have set a precedent for extraditions to China.
In Hong Kong tradition, a protest occurred. Two million people took to the streets. Yes, two million. Amongst them were students, bankers, children, the elderly, and everyone in between. The sheer number of people marching to protect the democracy they love is moving beyond belief. The law was eventually revoked because of these protests.
Then, just earlier this year, China passed a security law. The poorly named law criminalizes any act of secession, subversion, or collusion with foreign forces. So, what does this law actually do? The law, by using broad language, indicates that any threat against national security is a crime, bringing the arbitrary justice system of China to Hong Kong. Offences against the security law carry a life sentence.
China could, under this new law, claim that peaceful protests done in favour of democracy are influenced by foreign forces, and therefore name them collusion.
Free speech also comes under threat. Only a few days after the law took effect the slogan “Free Hong Kong, liberation for our times” was banned outright. A more blatant offence against notions of freedom and democracy could not be dreamt.
So, what does my home nation of Canada do and say when such an affront against democracy is present on the world stage? Well, like I said in my example, not much. To the Trudeau government’s credit, extraditions to Hong Kong were stopped in the wake of the security law. But other than this, the only actions have been vague comments made between Canada and China. Not much in terms of a substantive position if you ask me.
Well, what should Canada do? It’s a hard choice to stand up to China in such a way that is warranted, especially if you don’t have the backing of lots of other democracies. Britain has taken an excellent first step. They have extended a pathway to citizenship to about 3 million Hong Kong residents born before 1997 who have a British-issued passport.
Canada should follow suit. I cannot see a reason why welcoming immigrants who know the precious nature of democracy because they have seen it attacked should not be allowed to enter. If we do not allow this, we run the risk of allowing many millions of democracy-loving Hongkongers to fall under the oppressive regime of China. They will never recover the rights and freedoms they hold so dear in this new despotism.
The Chinese ambassador recently warned that Canada should not help Hong Kong. Now is not the time for the Trudeau government to dance around the issues.
China is attacking democratic principles in Hong Kong. The government should fight to have the police crackdowns investigated independently by the International Court of Justice. Every United Nations meeting should start and end with denunciations by democratic nations of the security law and other oppressive measures.
Petitions and protests are important, but as a foreign nation, these are the substantive steps we should be taking. Help offered on the world stage in the form of a pathway to citizenship and denunciations and investigations by international bodies is progress.
Here stands a nation in Hong Kong that loves democracy so much that it marches in the millions when it senses it disintegrating. If Canada sits on the sidelines, do we really value democracy, or do we just take it for granted?