Most Canadians are familiar with the nightmares endured by Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Michaels imprisoned for almost three years because they were unlucky enough to be in China when Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Fewer Canadians are familiar with the case of Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian whose 15-year drug-related jail sentence was upped to death shortly after Meng’s arrest.
Almost no Canadians are familiar with the cases of some 115 Canadians who remain in Chinese jails. Often they are cut off from Canada’s consular services and even their families; often they have been placed in custody for arbitrary reasons; always they have been denied a fair trial.
Many languish in prison without even getting to court, where sentences can be handed down in a matter of minutes, without judges so much as allowing defendants to submit exculpatory evidence. One Canadian hasn’t been heard from in over a decade.
Because of Beijing’s penchant for incarcerating foreigners, travel in China is ever risky. Beijing might at any time seek to obtain leverage in a dispute with Canada by holding any convenient Canadian as a bargaining chip. But any Canadian who finds himself in a dispute with someone favored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also needs to beware.
Because of such risks, Canada last year led a 58-country declaration condemning hostage diplomacy, leading China’s Ottawa Embassy to call Canada “hypocritical and despicable,” and China’s Global Times to refer to the declaration as “an aggressive and ill-considered attack designed to provoke China.”
Yet despite Canada’s unambiguous recognition of the dangers in travelling to China and the possibility that Beijing is fully capable of exacting revenge, Canada’s federal government issues only the mildest of travel warnings for Canadians contemplating China travel—Level 2 Canadian Travel Advisories, the same as it provides for travellers to the United Kingdom and France, where rare terrorist attacks have occurred.
But the risk in China, which has also suffered terrorist attacks, is greatly heightened, not least since Canadians who run afoul of Chinese authorities are on their own. Unlike in the UK or France, where the Canadian Embassy or Consulate can go to bat for a Canadian in distress, Canada has little to no influence in China.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to sanctions on Russia and bureaucratic confusion, stranded Westerners in Russia, providing another reason for Canadians to be wary. Should Beijing make good on its threats to invade Taiwan, Canadians might suddenly find themselves in difficulty.
To properly warn Canadians of the risks of travelling to China, and to reduce travel to China to prudent levels, the federal government should classify China as a high-risk country. China warrants either a Level 3 warning to “avoid non-essential travel” or, more prudent still, a Level 4 to “avoid all travel,” the warning generally given to Canadians where the federal government would be unable to come to the assistance of Canadians abroad.
The travel trade with China should also be reduced in the other direction, to prevent Chinese citizens from coming to Canada simply to score a Canadian passport. Because Canada is one of the few countries that automatically offers citizenship to anyone born in the country—the United States is the only other developed country to do so—Canada has become a favorite destination for thousands of Chinese women who land in Canada before they’re scheduled to give birth.
CEO World Magazine rates Canada as the world’s second-best birth-tourist location (Chile is first) because the “Canadian passport is laden with strong aspects that help citizens travel to approximately 190 countries visa-free.” It adds that citizens do not need to pay taxes if they do not live there.
Birth tourism is so popular with Chinese women that travel agencies in China market Canada on that basis. But many Canadians don’t share their enthusiasm. A 2019 poll of British Columbians found that 82 percent believe birth tourism unfairly taps Canada’s education, health care, and social programs; 66 percent believe that it can devalue Canadian citizenship; and 63 percent believe that it can deprive Canadians of hospital beds, particularly since Canadian hospitals tend to operate at capacity.
Most Chinese who take advantage of birth tourism have no intention of remaining in Canada. They are affluent, often members of the CCP elite, and return to China immediately after giving birth. So, too, for other Chinese who game the immigration system to obtain a Canadian passport, sometimes to hide corrupt earnings by laundering them in Canadian real estate.
For one, the real estate market is distorted by what’s known as “hot money.” For another, China’s Xinhua news service reported that Chinese agents operate in Canada to hunt down corrupt officials. Their presence also threatens law-abiding Canadians of Chinese origin whom the CCP may target for political reasons.
Travel from China can be prudently limited by ending easy access to Canadian citizenship. Travel to China can be prudently limited by alerting Canadians to the dangers of traveling to a lawless country. Prudence calls for a diminution of travel between the two countries, in aid of decoupling Canada’s economy from China’s.
Patricia Adams is an economist and president of the Energy Probe Research Foundation and Probe International, an independent think tank in Canada and around the world. She is the publisher of internet news services Three Gorges Probe and Odious Debts Online and the author or editor of numerous books. Her books and articles have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, Bengali, Japanese, and Bahasa Indonesia. She can be reached at email@example.com