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- Activists from the Chinese Canadian community testified in front of Parliament about the threats they’ve received from officials in China.
- Witnesses recounted instances of intimidation and harassment, with some receiving threatening phone calls due to their advocacy work against the Chinese Communist Party.
- The Canadian government is considering creating a foreign influence transparency registry to prevent foreign meddling in Canadian affairs.
- Witnesses urged MPs to take a strong and principled stance against China to protect the rights and safety of its citizens.
Ottawa, Canada: Activists from the Chinese community testified in front of Parliament about the threats they say they’ve received from officials in China. Their personal stories of intimidation include reports that their family members have been killed or are at risk.
The Real Victims of Beijing’s Interference
The Canadian Chinese community has been suffering from Beijing’s interference, according to advocates who have warned of the threats faced by those who speak out against the Chinese Communist Party. At a parliamentary committee hearing, activists recounted the intimidation and harassment they have experienced, with some even receiving threatening phone calls. The witnesses’ accounts came amid concerns over alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections, and questions about whether the Liberal party was briefed on it.
Mehmet Tohti, the Canadian representative of the World Uyghur Congress, testified that he was campaigning to resettle Uyghur refugees in Canada when he received a disturbing phone call. “I was told that my two sisters are dead and so was my mother, the whereabouts of my three brothers and their spouses and the children unknown,“ he said. Tohti believes that the call was an attempt by the Chinese state police to pressure him to back down from his advocacy work on behalf of Uyghurs, an ethnic minority persecuted by the regime. “Beijing is watching every day with the threat of intimidation and harassment,” he said.
Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, spoke of the relentless campaign against those who speak out against the Chinese Communist Party. “China controls everything,“ he said. “Even if you change your cellphone, they can quickly find you.“ Kwan and other activists have been trying to raise the alarm about Chinese interference in Canada for years. He believes that “they also harass and intimidate Canadians who are critical of China, activists, dissidents and human rights defenders, rendering the Chinese Canadian community the real victims of this game.”
The Threats of Intimidation
Kwan also spoke of the subtle yet clear threats he has received. “You get a phone call in the middle of the day asking, ‘So, how are your parents doing back in Sichuan, China?‘” he said. “And then you get the message that means if you don’t behave, your parents, phone numbers, address or even their physical wellbeing is under threat.” Kwan, who is a filmmaker, recounted being followed and questioned during a festival in Hong Kong in 2005 by someone who seemed to be an agent of the Chinese Communist regime.
Mehmet Tohti later tweeted that the “topic of Chinese interference is not a novelty for us.“ He and other witnesses urged MPs on the standing committee on access to information, privacy, and ethics not to leave their voices out of the discussion. Kwan pressured Ottawa to take “a strong and principled stance“ against China, stating that “no doubt, the interference in the Canadian electoral process is a grave concern. But I argue that this is the tip of the iceberg.“
Creating a Foreign Influence Transparency Registry
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino recently launched consultations on creating a foreign influence transparency registry to help prevent countries from meddling in Canada’s affairs. The Liberal government wants to hear from experts and the broader public, including members of affected communities, on creating such a registry. International Trade Minister Mary Ng, who is Chinese Canadian, said it is important to create a registry that doesn’t lead to more anti-Asian racism. “Let me assure you, this is not the case,“ said Kwan. “The Chinese Canadian community together with the Uyghur community, Tibetan community, and other people welcome this foreign agent registry. A registry on foreign agents is not the same as a registry on all Chinese Canadians.”
Witness urges Ottawa to take action on foreign agent registry
Gabrielle Lim, a fellow with the Citizen Lab out of the University of Toronto, questioned whether a registry would work.
“How effective will it be? Eh. Because a lot of these operations are covert or clandestine by nature,“ she told the committee on Friday.
“So even if you were to put agents and register everyone, my sense is they will find alternate means to evade or circumvent the registry.“
Kwan and Lim suggested the government set up a dedicated hotline so people can report being harassed on Canadian soil and get advice on how to deal with any concerns for their safety.
The testimony from the activists sheds light on the ongoing issue of Chinese interference in Canadian politics and society. China’s increasing influence in Canada has been a concern for many, with allegations of Chinese officials trying to influence Canadian politics and academic institutions.
The Chinese government has denied these allegations, but the activists’ testimony suggests otherwise. The threats and intimidation they have faced demonstrate the lengths to which the Chinese government will go to silence those who speak out against them.
As the Canadian government continues to grapple with the issue of foreign interference, it is clear that the Chinese Canadian community has been the real victim of Beijing’s interference. The Canadian government must take a strong and principled stance against China to protect the rights and safety of its citizens.