September 24, 2022

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A Vancouver-area resident accused of breaking Hong Kong’s national security law is increasingly frustrated with what he calls a lack of support from the Canadian government.

Victor Ho, of Richmond, B.C., just south of Vancouver, is the retired editor-in-chief of Canada’s Sing Tao Chinese-language newspaper. He’s lived in Metro Vancouver for 25 years.

In late July, he and two other activists held a news conference in Toronto to announce the formation of a virtual parliament in exile that would be democratically elected by Hong Kong’s diaspora living around the world. 

But one week later, Ho along with pro-democracy businessman Elmer Yuen, and Baggio Leung, a former Hong Kong lawmaker-elect, were placed on Hong Kong’s national security bureau’s wanted list for allegedly subverting state power.

“They [the Canadian government] should know about the Hong Kong government warrant, it’s in Chinese and English and federal officials should ask the Hong Kong government to clarify about this because it involves a Chinese-Canadian national,” Ho says.

China’s government in Beijing enacted the national security law in Hong Kong in July 2020, signaling a growing authoritarian rule over the previously free-wheeling city that was handed back to China 25 years ago. A person can be charged under the vaguely worded law for subversion, secession, sedition and terrorism. Anyone convicted under this law can face a minimum of 10 years to life in prison

A woman walks past a promotional banner of the national security law for Hong Kong, in Hong Kong this summer. China has approved a contentious law that would allow authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in Hong Kong, sparking fears that it would be used to curb opposition voices in the semi-autonomous territory. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Email requests to the Chinese consulate in Toronto to clarify the charge were unanswered.

Jie Cheng, associate professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, says the national security law is meant to deter international involvement in Hong Kong by threatening to take extraterritorial legal action.

“It has created immense chilling effects on people in Hong Kong. But because China only has mutual legal assistance agreements with a few dozens of countries  — and most developed countries or liberal democracies have no agreements with China for deportation and mutual recognition of judicial decisions  — its global impacts are still limited.”

Gordon Houlden, the director emeritus of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, says China might send people to Canada to watch Victor Ho’s activities. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Former  diplomat Gordon Houlden agrees and adds the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong may have already tried  to express concerns about China infringing on the rights of Canadian citizens.

“China would not be foolish enough to snatch him,” said Houlden, who is also director emeritus of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

But he expects China may send observers to watch Ho in Canada and suggests Ho be very cautious about traveling. 

Houlden says Canada has a long list of issues with China and it’s not practical to raise each one.

“If the threats are repeated or if he is harassed, then that changes the dynamic,” he said, adding the Canadian Security Intelligence Service could then become involved.

Ho says the accusations from China are premature because the parliament in exile is merely a concept.

“We only announced the establishment of the organizing committee of a virtual Hong Kong parliament, launching our website and social media. We haven’t even actually established the group,” Ho says, adding the group needs to have an address and chose Toronto.

“It’s just a concept, we are not advocating a revolution,” Ho said.

“We are just giving a platform for the Hong Kong diaspora to have universal suffrage, to vote for MPs to advocate for Hong Kong interests in their respective countries,” he explains. “We want to lobby like-minded countries that support our concept, like the European Union and Canada,” he says.

Ho admits the Hong Kong Parliament is idealistic, but says if they can succeed, “it will be a bonus, and if not at least we tried”.

In a statement issued Monday, Adrien Blanchard, press secretary of Global Affairs Canada, said, “The safety and security of Canadians, here in Canada and abroad, is our government’s top priority. We will always defend the rights and freedoms of Canadians and work to ensure they live free from intimidation or interference from foreign state actors. 

“Canada remains deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Canada has consistently voiced our grave concerns at Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law, directly and alongside our international partners.” Blanchard added, without naming Ho.

Canada has also suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, updated Global Affairs Canada’s travel advice and advisory for Hong Kong, and launched new immigration measures for Hong Kong residents. 

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