Politics

Ottawa announces new Hong Kong immigration options as committee warns Uighurs face 'genocide'

The federal government today announced long-awaited plans to help more people living in Hong Kong come to Canada as the Chinese government cracks down on the pro-democracy movement in the territory.

Canada has condemned removal of pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators

An anti-national security law protester, right, holds a Hong Kong independence flag as he marches on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, on July 1. (Tyrone Si/Reuters)

The federal government today announced long-awaited plans to help more people living in Hong Kong come to Canada as the Chinese government cracks down on the pro-democracy movement in the territory.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Canada is introducing a new measure targeting students and young people in Hong Kong: a work permit designed to speed up the process toward permanent residency.

"This announcement also supports the commitments made by the Government of Canada to maintain the many connections between Canada and Hong Kong in response to the Chinese government's imposition and implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020," his department said in a statement.

There are about 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, the department said, adding that the new Chinese national security law criminalizes "secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces," using very broad definitions that undermine rights and freedoms.

Hong Kong was supposed to operate under a "one-country, two-systems" framework after Britain handed its former colony over to Beijing in 1997 under an international agreement. But human rights and pro-democracy advocates say Beijing's new national security law is undermining freedom in Hong Kong.

WATCH: Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino pushes back at Chinese ambassador

Mendicino responds to Chinese Ambassador

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Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino calls out Chinese Ambassador at a news conference in Ottawa. 0:40

Mendicino said the new immigration stream announced today was crafted in response to the Chinese crackdown on some Hong Kongers.

"We find ourselves at a challenging moment. Canada remains deeply concerned about China's passage of the new national security law. We have unequivocally stated that this legislation and the unilateral powers within it are in direct conflict with China's international obligations," Mendicino said.

By targeting young Hong Kongers with post-secondary degrees from Canadian and foreign universities, Mendicino said Canada hopes to bring in "the best and the brightest" individuals fleeing repression.

On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada was "deeply disappointed" by China's latest decision to remove four elected lawmakers from office in Hong Kong.

"This decision further narrows Hong Kong's autonomy and the space for freedom of expression and public participation in governance in Hong Kong," the minister said in a media statement. "This action clearly demonstrates a concerning disregard for Hong Kong's Basic Law and the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong under the 'one-country, two-systems' framework."

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino: China's national security law is "in direct conflict with China's international obligations." (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Earlier today, members of a House of Commons committee looking into the plight of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province cited their recent conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party is guilty of perpetrating a genocide against the ethnic minority.

The all-party Commons subcommittee on human rights heard harrowing testimony from survivors of China's imprisonment of Uighur Muslims. They shared accounts of mass incarceration, rape, forced sterilization of women and mass surveillance.

Critics say China has detained as many as one million Uighurs and members of other Muslim groups in what amount to mass prisons, where they are subjected to "re-education."

The Chinese government has denied any abuse of human rights in the region and insists that reports claiming that are false.

"The subcommittee is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide, as laid out in the Genocide Convention," said Liberal MP Peter Fonseca, the committee chair. "In particular, the subcommittee would like to thank the Uighur witnesses that provided evidence at great risk to themselves and their families living in Xinjiang."

New Democrat MP Heather McPherson said the most compelling testimony she heard came from women who "survived the concentration camps and shared their stories of abuse and violence."

"It has been shown again and again that to wipe out a people, to perpetrate a genocide, one must destroy the women. Acts designed to prevent births constitute genocide," she said.

Thursday's developments are sure to anger China, which has warned the Trudeau government not to intervene in Hong Kong and to stop levelling criticism related to the Uighurs.

Canada's relations with China are at an all-time low because the People's Republic has imprisoned two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — an action the Trudeau government has branded as one of coercive or "hostage" diplomacy.

Kovrig and Spavor were rounded up by Chinese authorities in December 2018, nine days after Canada arrested Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

The subcommittee made it clear it was pointing the finger at the Chinese Communist Party specifically.

"This is not about a people. This is not about a country," said Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi. "What we want are these practices to stop and then we will have nothing to say on the matter of the Uighur people."

The subcommittee's report will make its way up to the full Commons committee on foreign affairs and international development before it goes to the government for a response.

The Trudeau government has said repeatedly it won't back down on public criticism of China's human rights record.

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