The Senate

Motion to Call Upon the Government to Impose Sanctions against Chinese and/or Hong Kong Officials--Debate Adjourned

December 12, 2019


Hon. Leo Housakos
[17:19]

Pursuant to notice of December 10, 2019, moved:

That the Senate call upon the Government of Canada to impose sanctions against Chinese and/or Hong Kong officials, pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), in light of the violation of human rights, of the principles of fundamental justice and of the rule of law in relation to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and to the systematic persecution of minority Muslims in China.

He said: Honourable senators, the motion that Senator Ngo and I have put before you is one that is at the core of who we are as Canadians and embodies the most essential values dear to our citizenry: democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

We say proudly that we are a nation that defends these fundamental values at home and abroad. Throughout our history, we have proven it with blood spilt and countless Canadian lives lost in conflicts and battles around the world, including both world wars and in Afghanistan as well as with various peacekeeping missions around the world. We have defended our values through diplomacy, leading the fight against the brutality of apartheid in South Africa. Canada has never backed down in the face of tyranny, and we most certainly should not start now. We appear to be dangerously close to doing so where China is concerned.

Quite bluntly, Canada and the People’s Republic of China have a very serious clash of values. The PRC is a dictatorship possessing a complete disregard for fundamental freedom, democracy and, certainly, the rule of law. They are amongst the world’s worst violators of human rights.

I had initially hoped to speak to this motion on Tuesday, as it was Human Rights Day around the world, as many of you, being very ardent and vocal supporters of human rights, already know. Human Rights Day is observed around the world every year on December 10 in recognition of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So even though it’s a couple of days late, my remarks today are in honour of all victims of human rights abuses around the world, including mainland China and Hong Kong.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has reported that it had received credible information that some 1 million ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang region are being interned in camps on the mainland. The allegations suggest that the Uighurs have been targeted as enemies of the Chinese state based solely on their ethno-religious identity.

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, has said:

 . . . what is underway is a sinister program of incarceration on a massive scale that the world has hardly seen anywhere in decades.

As disturbing as such actions are on their own, they are particularly disquieting as a larger pattern. The regime is not only engaging in a program of mass incarceration and Orwellian-like surveillance when it comes to minority Muslims, but it is also brutally cracking down on pro-democracy dissidents in Hong Kong.

What started six months ago, as a protest against a proposed extradition agreement between Hong Kong and China that many feared would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, judicial independence and civil liberties have turned into a broader fight for full democracy and accountability for police action against protesters. The situation in Hong Kong has become untenable for the people who are standing for freedom and suffrage.

While the principle of One Country, Two Systems was the cornerstone of the PRC/Hong Kong structure following British rule, Hong Kong officials appear to be appointees working vociferously in concert with the Chinese regime to force through the PRC’s aspirations for one China rather than the vocal aspirations of the people of Hong Kong.

Clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent. In the face of this, Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned against an independent Hong Kong, saying that any attempt to divide China would end in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder.”

If that and the internment and forced re-education of a religious minority doesn’t warrant the intervention of a country that claims to promote freedom and human rights, colleagues, I don’t know what does.

It should outrage all of us at our core as Canadians. And quite frankly, coupled with China’s increased aggressiveness internationally and increased militarization, it should also worry us from a national security standpoint.

Canada and Canadians have been victimized on a multitude of levels by the PRC, including spying, illegal detainment and theft of intellectual property, and we have nobody but ourselves, colleagues, to blame. We have allowed China to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, whether it’s direct involvement by the Chinese government or through proxies like Huawei. China is now involved in Canada’s agriculture sector, energy sector and tech sector. We have slowly and uncomfortably become extremely reliant on China, just as they intended.

Let me just say this: This didn’t happen overnight or even over the last four years. There have been five successive Canadian governments dating back to the 1970s that, in our zealous pursuit of expanding our trade and commercial interests, became complacent to the egregious human rights abuses and disregard for the rule of law in China.

We have been turning a blind eye for too long and putting our thirst for dollars over our basic values of decency and justice. Shame on us, but, colleagues, it must stop.

That’s why I think this motion is so important. I believe it’s time we as a country strike a different tone and approach with the government of China, and on many fronts. This motion is just, I believe, a beginning.

Our current approach to China appears to be one of appeasement. In the face of their unlawful detainment of two of our citizens and threats of execution of two other Canadians, we have continued with investments in the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as continued ministerial and parliamentary missions to China.

Last year, we even had the Government of Canada’s departments hosting fancy lobster dinners in China. If you all recall, I asked the government leader repeatedly about that in this chamber.

Then there are the public statements that have been made by senior cabinet ministers, past and present, that seem to reward and further encourage China’s boorish behaviour towards our nation.

Former Minister John McCallum was forced to resign as Canada’s ambassador to China after his comments regarding the ongoing extradition case of Huawei executive Madam Meng Wanzhou. Former Prime Minister Chrétien suggested that Canada should just drop the extradition case against Meng Wanzhou, and former Minister John Manley suggested we should have tipped China off about the impending arrest, colleagues.

Senator Housakos
[17:25]

This is a former prime minister and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Is that the way a country founded on the rule of law and democracy behaves?

I will give credit to Canada’s then-Global Affairs Minister, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, who, in response to former Prime Minister Chrétien’s appalling suggestion, had this to say to the Globe and Mail:

We need to be very thoughtful and very mindful of precedents that our actions and our decisions set. And I think when we reflect on it, it would be clear to all of us that it would be a very dangerous precedent indeed for Canada to alter its behaviour when it comes to honouring an extradition treaty in response to external pressure. . . . When we think about the implications of setting such a precedent, we could easily find ourselves in a situation where, by acting in a single specific case, we could actually make all Canadians around the world less safe. That is a responsibility I take very seriously.

And Minister Freeland was absolutely right. Sadly, we don’t see enough of that in our current approach when it comes to China. We should be seeing a lot more of that.

Minister Freeland’s successor as Global Affairs Minister, the newly appointed François-Philippe Champagne, outlined his perspective in 2017 when he stated:

China [stands] out as [a] beacon of stability, predictability, a rule-based system, a very inclusive society.

Excuse me, colleagues. When has China ever been any of these things, particularly inclusive?

Also recently, former Minister Manley again weighed in on Canada’s detainment of Meng Wanzhou, suggesting that Canada do a prisoner swap in return for Canadians arbitrarily and unlawfully detained in China, as if somehow these two Canadians actually did anything to justify their detention. They did not.

And it isn’t just Liberals who are making comments that are completely abhorrent. Just this past weekend in an interview with Mercedes Stephenson, Alykhan Velshi, a former senior Conservative staffer who is now a VP with Huawei’s Canadian operations, said that Huawei Canada respects Canadian law, and made it sound like all things are equal in this matter and that it’s all just a misunderstanding between us that needs to be worked out amongst friends.

That’s the issue I take with our current approach to China, colleagues. We are behaving as if we have done something for which we should apologize. We have absolutely nothing to apologize for except for our continued appeasement of China in the face of their increasingly confrontational and adversarial actions both domestically and internationally.

The time for appeasement is over. It is now time for Canada to stand up and be counted in the fight for the protection of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is not enough to say we stand for these values if we are going to stand idly by when we are being grossly infringed on by a tyrannical regime just because we don’t want to upset them.

We don’t seem to mind upsetting our greatest friends and allies like the United States or Israel. What are they doing wrong? Not behaving like brutes? Should they threaten us or maybe imprison and illegally detain Canadians in order to somehow get us to treat them a little bit nicer?

Even now, Canada’s new ambassador to China, here in his new post for mere weeks, has threatened us not once but twice already, most recently about this very motion.

Last Thursday in Montreal, in my hometown, Ambassador Cong Peiwu had this to say about the prospect of this chamber adopting our motion:

We firmly oppose this kind of behaviour. And I think it’d cause serious damage to our bilateral relations . . . we’ll make very firm countermeasures to this. It is not in the interest of the Canada side. So we do hope that we stop this kind of dangerous activity.

Imagine that, colleagues: an ambassador of a foreign country threatening our Parliament over applying a law that was duly passed in accordance with our parliamentary democracy. That may work in China, but that’s not how we do things in Canada.

That threat illustrates perfectly why we need to adopt this motion and invoke Magnitsky sanctions as soon as possible. There comes a time in every schoolyard where you can no longer be a bystander. There comes a time in every schoolyard when you must stand up to the bully who is bullying you. That time, colleagues, I believe is now for Canada. We have applied Magnitsky sanctions against officials from other countries, including Russia, Venezuela, Myanmar and others. I see no reason not to apply them against China.

Like you, I’ve heard the arguments that doing so or taking any steps against China that even closely resemble steps taken by the U.S. may be seen as merely taking the side of the U.S. in its trade war with China. Forget how insulting that is, implying that we are not a sovereign nation, capable of acting of our own accord, but it shows a complete disregard and whitewashing of real human rights abuses taking place in Hong Kong and mainland China. Either we are defenders of democracy, human rights and the rule of law or we are not. That’s the question. I put to each and every one of you in this chamber; ask yourselves: Are you a defender of those values that are so fundamental to our freedom, our country and who we are?

We as parliamentarians have a job to do in holding our government to account, and it extends beyond domestic policy and governance. We also have a responsibility to hold government to account in our actions internationally, to ensure those actions reflect who we are as a people.

I’ll ask you again: Are we a nation that defends democracy, human rights and the rule of law, or are we not?

Despite the threat from the ambassador, the danger here is not in adopting this motion. The real danger is that the more we appease China, the more emboldened they become. It is time for a change in tone and approach. As Canada’s former ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, stated recently, “The only language China understands is one of firmness.” That is a sentiment echoed by another former ambassador to China, David Mulroney. He was responding to a social media post from the Mayor of Winnipeg, following a meeting with the new ambassador for China. In it, Mayor Bowman said he was pleased with the visit and called it “a productive discussion about our Sister City Chengdu, trade, and Winnipeg’s goal of becoming a leader in the protection and promotion of human rights.” I would argue that, unfortunately, they are not off to a very good start.

However, former Ambassador Mulroney said it best in his response:

Statements like this play into the PRC’s agenda of obfuscation, and actually undermine efforts to protect human rights. They reflect the false assumption that diplomacy cannot cope with plain speaking and hard truths.

Mr. Mulroney has also been quoted as describing some of the policies of the PRC as “the greatest threat to human freedom on the planet.” I couldn’t agree more, and we as a nation, along with our allies, need to start treating them as such. With that, I leave you with these words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

Thank you, colleagues.

Hon. Thanh Hai Ngo
[17:33]

Honourable senators, along with my colleague Senator Housakos, I, too, rise today to call your attention to pressing issues and immensely grave concerns to all humanity.

Two days ago marked the celebration of the seventy-first anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, 71 years later, we are still reminded of the monumental work that is left for all of us to undertake as we all are witness to the immeasurable atrocities and gross human rights violations still being perpetrated worldwide.

As we are putting forward this motion, I’m deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Hong Kong, with protesters, day in and day out, tirelessly fighting to keep democracy alive and trying to uphold universal freedoms and human rights in that region, jeopardizing their security and lives for the good of humanity.

The Hong Kong protests have been going on for several months now. As we know, the protests started in response to the government of Hong Kong proposing an extradition bill that would have made it possible for people to be extradited to mainland China to be tried, which would have undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and its people’s civil liberties. Although the bill has been withdrawn, the protests have now become a fight by the hundreds of thousands of courageous and fearless protesters for political freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, demanding that China ceases to infringe on Hong Kong’s autonomy and its citizens’ civil liberties.

Unfortunately, this has been met with an excessive use of force and escalating brutality by Hong Kong police and officials. Hong Kong police forces have unscrupulously resorted to using aggressive methods against protesters, such as shooting at point-blank range, firing rubber bullets, tear-gassing, pepper-spraying, persecuting peaceful protesters, arresting on vague charges, not intervening to defend protesters when attacked by pro-Beijing counterparts, and the list goes on.

Nonetheless, protesters have not backed down in the face of such oppression and human rights violations. They have fought and are still fighting to uphold fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. As such, we must stand in solidarity with the protesters of Hong Kong, and condemn the egregious and barbarous actions of Hong Kong and Chinese officials in dealing with and trying to suppress Hong Kong’s autonomy and its citizens’ liberties.

Furthermore, I am extremely and utterly distraught by the ongoing systematic persecution and gross violation of the human rights of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. We have known for some time now that the People’s Republic of China is persecuting ethnic and ethno-religious minorities as well as peaceful political protesters and human rights defenders. The first group that immediately come to mind is the Uighur Muslims. There are also the Buddhist Tibetans, Falun Gong, Falun Dafa, Kazakhs and many others.

In August 2018, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported receiving credible information that approximately one million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang were being detained in camps. Esteemed colleagues, several sources now claim it’s between two and three million persecuted individuals. That is absolutely horrible.

Moreover, in the Xinjiang region, the exponential intensification of persecutions started with the arrival of Chen Quanguo, who has been the Communist Party Secretary of that region since August 2016. He is also the former Communist Party secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. It has been reported by Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch, in January 2017 that the system that was first developed and put in place in the TAR by Chen Quanguo is the same one that is being and has been used in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region since his arrival.

Although he is the mastermind behind this staggering, repressive system, it is important to specify that the person who put it in place in Xinjiang is Zhu Hailun, since he knew what had to be done on-site, as he knew who to arrest and how to proceed.

This system has been developed to persecute and force the assimilation of ethnic and ethno-religious minorities that have been targeted as enemies of the Chinese state based solely on their ethno-religious identity.

The Uighurs and other ethnic and ethno-religious minorities are targeted by the mass surveillance that is happening by voice recognition, face scanning, iris scanning, et cetera. They are being unlawfully detained in those reeducation camps, tortured, subjected to ill-treatment, abused and persecuted, forced to abandon their culture, religion, language, identity. Some of them are even scattered through prisons and detention centres in mainland China.

To add to these monstrous atrocities, Muslim children are separated from their parents and arbitrarily held in so-called “child welfare” institutions and high security boarding schools in Xinjiang for thought education as was reported in September by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Colleagues, after the UN report came out the People’s Republic of China vehemently denied the existence of camps saying there is no arbitrary detention and that the allegations are simply fake news.

They denied the existence of such camps right until they changed the law to legalize them. How convenient.

Last Monday, it was reported that suddenly all of the Uighurs and ethno-religious minorities that were detained in those camps “have graduated and they are very happy.” Beijing defended its “re-education” camps in the XUAR, adding that China will continue operating those “re-education” camps.

Colleagues, we all know what these camps are all about. They are simply and purely detention, indoctrination camps. The sole purpose of their existence is the rapidly effective assimilation of the ethnic and ethno-religious minorities within that region in order to suppress their identity, culture, religion and language. As it was reported by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in her article, “Exposed: China’s Operating Manuals For Mass Internment And Arrest By Algorithm”: “The China Cables mark a significant advance in the world’s knowledge about the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II.”. With the recent leak of those China Cables, we now have evidence that the international community needs to bring the People’s Republic of China to justice for what China is doing. Will the crimes stop if we only resort to dialogue and international diplomacy? I highly doubt it.

The detention, persecution and forced assimilation of the minority Muslim and other ethno-religious minorities has been going on for years, and doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon.

The harvesting of organs and the persecution of the Falun Gong has been going on for years now and it doesn’t seem it will stop.

The Tibetan people have suffered constant oppression and persecution for several years now and, again, there is still no sign that this will stop.

On top of that, there is Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians who have been illegally detained for a year now, without any access to legal counsel or family members.

Then there is “the forgotten Canadians” detained in China. For example, a Canadian citizen and former Uighur activist who fled China and came here as a refugee. While on a trip to Uzbekistan, he was arrested and handed over to Chinese authorities. Huseyin Celil has been unjustly imprisoned for 13 years now. Thirteen years of dialogue and international diplomacy. I could go on like this for hours and hours.

Colleagues, these are the things that we know of, can you only imagine what else we know nothing about? How many more years should we wait before dialogue and international diplomacy bring real results? Time is of the essence and at some point dialogue and international diplomacy do not advance the cause. Why should the world tolerate such oppression, injustice, inhumanity and cruelty?

Time is running out, and at some point, dialogue and international diplomacy will run into a dead end. Why should the entire world tolerate such oppression, injustice, inhumanity and cruelty?

As a nation, Canada has always been and always will be a champion in the fight for democracy, freedom, basic human rights and the rule of law. As Canadians, we deeply cherish these values and hold them dear. They are deeply entrenched in us, flow through our veins and are part of our DNA.

Why should we depart from them? Why should we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that these terrible atrocities will suddenly disappear like magic one day through dialogue and international diplomacy? Incidentally, those things have not achieved anything so far.

We, as parliamentarians, cannot stand idle on these issues of grave concern. I repeat the statement from Senator Housakos. He said, “We are either defenders of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, or we are not.” It’s time for the Government of Canada to take immediate action and stand up to China. Senator Housakos also says Canada imposes sanctions on Russia, Myanmar and so on. Why shouldn’t this sanction be imposed upon Chinese and Hong Kong officials? Why should they get a different treatment? There is too much at stake for Canada to continue to be a bystander.

At some point the Government of Canada needs to do the right thing. It’s now or never. We need to call on the Government of Canada to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials pursuant to the Magnitsky law in light of the violations of human rights, the principles of fundamental justice and the rule of law in relation to the ongoing situation in Hong Kong and systemic persecution of minority Muslims in China.

That is exactly what our motion is calling for. We are calling for sanctions against those who repeatedly perpetrate human rights violations and who forcibly and illegally detain human beings in detention camps.

I hope you will support this extremely important motion. Thank you.