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Why tens of thousands are in the streets and facing fierce police push-back in Hong Kong

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: tens of thousands rally in Hong Kong; as U.S. schools are 'hardened' against attacks, a Columbine survivor helps put the issue into perspective; touring the Massey Hall renovations with Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A protester holds an umbrella as tear gas billows around her during the demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The crowd of tens of thousands who turned out in Hong Kong today to rally against a controversial new extradition bill brought to mind the massive "Occupy" democracy demonstrations of 2014.
  • Schools in the U.S. are being "hardened" against attacks, and speaking to a survivor of the Columbine High School massacre helps put the issue into perspective.
  • Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy gets nostalgic when he sees the current state of the Massey Hall renovation project.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Programming Note: The National will be delayed tonight on CBC's main network due to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. It will air at its usual time, 21:00 ET, on CBC News Network and on CBC's digital platforms. 

Hong Kong

It was an unequal battle.

Police in Hong Kong used batons, water hoses, tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds against protesters in the city's centre today. A few responded by throwing rocks, but most were armed with little more than umbrellas, goggles, or pieces of plastic wrap to try and protect themselves from the stinging clouds of pepper spray.

Protesters face off with police outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Huge crowds blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Dale de la Rey/AFP/Getty Images)

The crowd of tens of thousands who turned out to rally against a controversial new extradition bill brought to mind the massive "Occupy" democracy demonstrations of 2014, which lasted for 79 days.

But after they swarmed the legislative council building and succeeded in delaying a scheduled debate, the hard push-back from authorities managed to largely clear the streets.

Tonight, the city waits to see what will happen next.

The proposed law would allow for criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China for trial.

However, many fear that it will be used to target activists and dissidents, and the act's broad language has raised concerns that foreign residents and even visiting tourists and business people could fall under its provisions.

It may also help Beijing extend its reach into countries that it hasn't reached an extradition treaty with — like Canada, the United States and the U.K. — by having people from nations that Hong Kong has treaties with first sent there, and then on to Chinese jails.

Injuries reported as protesters, police clash in Hong Kong

4 years ago
Duration 1:13
Injuries were reported as protesters and Hong Kong police clashed at a demonstration against an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

The 1984 agreement between the United Kingdom and China for the return of Hong Kong was supposed to protect rights and institutions in the territory, under the principle of "one country, two systems."

Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May today expressed her worries that the bargain is being undermined. "It is vital that those extradition arrangements in Hong Kong are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in the Sino-British joint declaration," she told reporters.

Although practically speaking, there is nothing that Britain can do about it. And the reality is that freedoms in Hong Kong have been under sustained attack for quite some time.

A fringe, pro-independence political party has been banned, and several democracy activists have been barred from seeking office. In April, nine leaders of the 2014 protests were convicted on "public nuisance" charges, with four sentenced to jail for terms between eight and 16 months.

From right, Tanya Chan, Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man shout slogans as they are released on bail at a court in Hong Kong on April 9. The court found nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations guilty on public nuisance and other charges. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Several Hong Kong booksellers who found a niche selling works that have been banned on the mainland have gone missing and then reappeared in Chinese jails.

Beijing has also found new ways to exert its authority and control, decreeing that its laws now apply to train traffic and even inside Hong Kong's new high-speed rail station.

And while Hong Kong was permitted to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre earlier this month, a key leader of those protests, Feng Congde, was turned away at the airport and sent back to his current home, the United States.

Protesters march along a road in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Plans to allow extraditions to China have sparked the biggest public backlash against the city's pro-Beijing leadership in years. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Things could be worse.

The 2019 Human Rights Watch report on China notes how Beijing has "dramatically stepped up repression and systematic abuses against the 13 million Turkic Muslims, including Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs, in China's northwestern Xinjiang region."

It also details how human rights and democracy activists continue to face imprisonment, arbitrary detention, sham prosecutions and enforced "vacations."

Last summer, veteran dissident Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years in prison for "subversion of state power," adding to his life total of 22 years already spent in Chinese jails.

Dong Yaoqiong, a Hunan woman who livestreamed a protest video of herself defacing a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping with ink, was committed to a psychiatric hospital for compulsory "treatment."

And anyone on the mainland who has dared to allude to the Tiananmen crackdown that killed a still untold number of peaceful protesters — whether via social media, or even slyly named booze bottles — has quickly found themselves under arrest.

WATCH - How a controversial extradition bill has united Hong Kong:

Anxiety and anger builds in Hong Kong over controversial extradition bill

4 years ago
Duration 5:54
Anxiety and anger are building in Hong Kong over a highly controversial extradition bill that could see people sent to mainland China for trial. It's exposing a deeper fear among residents, including 300,000 Canadians.

Hong Kong, in contrast, has a long history of mass protests, and they have sometimes even succeeded in getting Beijing to back down, as in 2003 when half-a-million hit the streets to rally against an anti-subversion bill.

But its eroding special status will come to a hard end in the not-too-distant future.

The "two systems" Basic Law agreement that came into effect at the handover only lasts for 50 years, and will expire in 2047, completely freeing China's hands.

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Hardening schools

As Washington bureau reporter Paul Hunter looked into how schools in the U.S. are being "hardened" against attacks, a spur-of-the-moment interview helped put the issue into perspective.


Twenty years later, that word alone conjures up images of high school students running from gunfire and consoling each other in grief.

It was an awakening for the U.S. in so many ways.

Students walk past Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 16, following a lockdown at Denver area schools. The attack on the school in 1999 left 13 dead and 24 injured. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

This spring we spent time in Nevada, Oklahoma and Colorado putting together a documentary based on the school shootings that have rocked this country in more recent years, and the steps some American educators are taking to protect their students from such attacks.

Although our piece doesn't focus on Columbine, it was impossible to ignore it when we found ourselves interviewing a school security expert in Denver, just a few kilometres from that infamous high school.

Our expert happened to mention that one of the survivors of the Columbine shooting, Lauren Reese, lived not far away and had two children who were now attending school in his district.

Next thing you know, we were interviewing Reese — who still hasn't even told her own kids some of the details of that terrible day.

But what a story she told us.

Just 15 years old at the time, Reese was between classes and on a payphone with her mother that morning when, as she put it, "one of the shooters ran down the hallway and he actually pointed a gun, a sawed-off shotgun, in my direction and was shooting."

Lauren Reese survived an encounter with one of the shooters during the Columbine High School attack in 1999. She wants to see security increased at U.S. schools. (CBC)

Reese dropped the phone and took cover in a nearby bathroom.

When she sneaked out, terrified but still unsure of the bigger picture, she heard her mom's voice shouting through the telephone still dangling where Reese had left it.

So she picked it up.

"I said, 'Mommy someone brought a gun to school.' And all she said was 'Go! Run!' and she's like 'I love you, bye.'"

She made it to safety, but 12 other students and a teacher didn't.

Reese is now an advocate for strengthening security at schools throughout the U.S., and she's one of the people in our documentary on The National airing tonight.

-Paul Hunter

  • WATCH: The story about the "hardening" of U.S. schools against attacks, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Touring Massey Hall with Jim Cuddy

Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy gets nostalgic when he sees the current state of the renovation project at Massey Hall, Toronto's famouse music venue, producer Greg Hobbs writes.

When I invited Jim Cuddy to come along on The National's tour of Massey Hall in mid-restoration, I thought he'd have an interesting perspective to offer.

Having played its historic stage more than 40 times, the co-founder of Blue Rodeo has a special relationship with what he lovingly calls "the grand old hall." He wants the magic of the iconic venue, which turns 125 on Friday, to be preserved for decades to come.

What I didn't count on was Cuddy's enthusiasm for climbing into every nook and cranny of the building.

Massey Hall's director of operations, Grant Troop (left), shows Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy (centre) and The National's Ian Hanomansing the progress of the music venue's renovation project. They are standing on a temporary platform high above the floor that gives restoration workers easy access to the original ceiling arches. (Greg Hobbs/CBC)

The Juno-award-winning performer and songwriter was interested in how the main hall and dressing rooms would be affected.

He had questions about historic heating systems, structural steel, and plaster craftsmanship.

He wanted to go up every ladder, pushing our guide, Massey's director of operations Grant Troop, at every turn.

Troop drew the line at Cuddy's repeated requests to climb up a crane through a hole in the roof, but other than that we had remarkable access — thanks in part to Cuddy's curiosity and tenacity.

Currently, the interior of Massey Hall is in a nearly unrecognizable state. The main hall is filled with scaffolding that supports a platform over the highest balcony (known as The Gallery), allowing workers easy access to the ceiling, where the original intricate plaster is being painstakingly restored.

Scaffolding in the main hall supports the platform that allows workers to reach the highest parts of the building during the massive two-year restoration project. (Greg Hobbs/CBC)

The extent of the work at the site startled Cuddy, at first.

"You know, this is a bit sickening, because all the memories that people imbued in the wood and the upholstery, that's all gone," he said.

"But I also recognize that the grand old hall was under siege, and if this preserves it for another 100 years then that will have been worth it."

- Greg Hobbs

  • WATCH: Jim Cuddy and Ian Hanomansing's tour of the Massey Hall renovations, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

Enduring love.

Quote of the moment

"You are responsible for the personal safety of your consumers. We therefore ask you to take action to remove dangerous content that encourages life-risking situations related to the use of electricity."

- The Israel Electricity Corp. writes to Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite, to share concerns that allowing characters to "climb up electricity poles freely and without restriction" promotes unsafe behaviour in real life.

What The National is reading

  • Two Canadian women abducted in Ghana rescued (CBC)
  • Houthi missile attack on Saudi airport "injures 26" (BBC)
  • U.K. to become first G7 nation to make zero net emissions law (Sky News)
  • More than 400 people detained during Moscow protest march (SBS News)
  • Most "meat" in 2040 will not come from dead animals, says report (Guardian)
  • US "deaths of despair" hit an all-time high (NBC News)
  • India unveils spacecraft for moon landing mission (Al Jazeera)
  • Police pay $10,000 for social media audit, told to post fewer puppy pics (NZ Herald)

Today in history

June 12, 1978: Pierre Trudeau's call for constitutional change

There is perhaps nothing more Canadian than a government white paper entitled "A Time for Action." But Pierre Trudeau is serious about moving ahead and patriating the Constitution with or without the agreement of the provinces. The premiers are outraged, and dismissive. "Profoundly insignificant," is René Lévesque's take. But Trudeau met his July 1, 1981, deadline and got his Canadian Bill of Rights too — although he failed to reform the Senate.

A Time for Action: Trudeau's proposal for constitutional reform

45 years ago
Duration 10:36
Prime Minister Trudeau vows to bring the Constitution home on his own terms.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.