Hong Kong Democracy Activists Being Harassed in Canada, Report Finds

Hong Kong Democracy Activists Being Harassed in Canada, Report Finds
Protesters take part in a rally against the proposed Hong Kong extradition bill, in Vancouver on Aug. 17, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

Supporters of pro-Hong Kong democracy rallies in Canada faced harassment and threats from pro-Beijing groups last August, a new report says.

Organizers and participants of the Global Solidarity with Hong Kong and Stand with Hong Kong, Power to the People rally held in August last year were met with threats, intimidation, and relentless harassment from pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organizations and individuals, says the report from Alliance Canada Hong Kong.

The pro-democracy group collected evidence of similar incidents from across Canada and around the world which they say point to “an international effort from pro-Beijing forces.”

“It is becoming clear that these are not one-offs. The similarities in tactics across all the counter protests, the ability to command opposition voices in a moment’s time, the threats, intimidation and relentless harassment from pro-Beijing forces to silence opposing voices are all a worrying trend of the growing PRC control and influence in Canada,” the report says.

For instance, pro-Hong Kong supporters in Calgary, Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, and Winnipeg faced off with nearly equal numbers of pro-Beijing counter-protesters at rallies on Aug. 17, 2019. In every city, the counter-protesters' message was nearly identical: “Stop Lying” and “One China” slogans and signs appeared alongside large new-looking Chinese flags. The pro-Beijing protesters taunted the democracy activists with threats and insults.

The quick counter-response by pro-CCP supporters—within a three-to five-day period after the Hong Kong rallies were announced—suggest an orchestrated effort by an external force, the report explains. After posting and promoting the events between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16, organizers also noticed an increase in pro-CCP social media activity in all major cities that targeted the event and community groups.

In addition, pro-Beijing supporters used surveillance equipment to capture images of their opponents at the rallies—similar to surveillance tactics employed by CCP agents who try to capture images to later identify using facial recognition processes. They then posted the photos online or doxxed Hong Kong supporters, according to the Alliance Canada Hong Kong report.

Similar incidents have been documented for years. In October 2014, when critics of the Beijing-backed Confucius Institutes (CI) protested a proposed CI contract with the Toronto Public School Board, pro-Beijing supporters came out to support the party line. They assembled and rallied noisily, waving Chinese flags and hurling insults like “You are a damn traitor to China” at the protesters.

The counter-demonstrations don't seem to have happened spontaneously; three days earlier, the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations had hosted a farewell banquet for a departing Chinese diplomat where locals were explicitly urged to come out in support of the CI.

On Aug. 29, 2018, at the opening ceremony of a gathering of returned overseas Chinese in Beijing, Chinese nationals were urged to “remember the call from the Party," "spread China's voice," and "safeguard national interests."

According to Clive Hamilton, author of the bestselling book “Silent Invasion,” the Chinese Communist Party has built a complex network of agencies tasked with exerting influence abroad, often carried out through its United Front Work Department.

The United Front has far-reaching tentacles that aim to target every aspect of society, from business and cultural organizations, to educational institutions and politics. It works to influence the choices, direction, and loyalties of its targets by overcoming negative perceptions and promoting favourable perceptions of CCP rule in China.

The United Front tries to suppress groups in other countries targeted by Beijing, including democracy activists, Taiwan supporters, and Falun Dafa adherents, among others.

Pattern of Harassment

Harassment of China human rights defenders in Canada has been ramping up in recent years, according to a report from Amnesty International released last year.

The main targets for harassment are members of five groups or entities that the CCP singles out the most for repression and persecution: Taiwan, Tibetans, Uighurs Muslims, Falun Gong adherents, and pro-democracy movements, said the report.

Human rights defenders active with these groups in Canada have experienced a growing pattern of abuse, including threats, intimidation, and interference against individual activists and communities in Canada.

In addition, Beijing-backed Chinese actors appear to have become “emboldened” in their efforts to deter human rights activists in Canada by the inadequate response from Canadian officials over many years, the report said.