Canadian expats consider leaving Hong Kong amid political turmoil, safety concerns

Safety concerns and the political turmoil playing out in Hong Kong have at least some Canadian expatriates contemplating a move back.

Travel advisory urges a 'high degree of caution' for Canadians in Hong Kong

A protester is overcome by tear gas near a police station in Hong Kong. Demonstrators and police have clashed violently in recent days after protesters took over the airport, shutting down all flights in or out for two days. (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)

Safety concerns and the political turmoil playing out in Hong Kong have at least some Canadian expatriates contemplating a move back.

The Canadian government updated its advisory about travel to Hong Kong earlier this week amid continuing protests by pro-democracy activists. Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, although many in the city say Beijing has tightened its grip in recent years.

"Definitely, there are more and more Canadians that are considering … going back to Canada if the Hong Kong situation is getting worse," Canadian Edward Chan, who lives in Hong Kong with his family, told CBC News Network.

"I think the biggest concern right now is we're not too certain about what is going to happen, how the Hong Kong government is going to deal with the situation."

Demonstrators and police have clashed violently in recent days after protesters took over the airport, resulting in two days of flight cancellations. Demonstrations started last spring when Hong Kong's government put forward a bill that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be sent to China for trial. They continued through the summer — even after the controversial bill was shelved.

'Turbulent moment in the world'

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland recently told a news conference in Toronto that this is a "turbulent moment" in the world. She said the government is working on contingency plans to help Canadians in Hong Kong.

"I would urge all Canadians, if you live in Hong Kong, if you are travelling there, if you have relatives who are there or are travelling there, to look at our travel advice."

Meanwhile, hundreds of members of China's People's Armed Police (PAP) could be seen Thursday conducting exercises at a sports stadium in the border city of Shenzhen, as the U.S. State Department expressed concern that they could be deployed across the border in Hong Kong to break up protests racking the city, Reuters reported.

Chinese soldiers walk in formation on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on Thursday in the city of Shenzhen, across the bay from Hong Kong. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

"Lots of Canadians and other local Hong Kong people are concerned about the general safety because we're not sure whether we can still trust the police when we are walking down the street,"  Chan said in his interview with CBC News Network earlier this week.

"We're just trying very hard to maintain things as normal as we can."

Chan himself said he took part in some protests back in June and July, but those were at a time when the demonstrations were "kind of approved by police," he said.

"But for the recent ones, I guess, it's kind of like getting more and more high risk."

One Toronto man who recently returned from Hong Kong told CBC's Greg Ross that he was among those who marched in the streets in recent weeks.

"I tried to stay away from police as much as possible, at least 100 metres away, because I was afraid," said the man, who CBC News agreed not to identify out of safety concerns for his safety. "A lot of times, I think they're hurting people on purpose."

The man said that his relatives in Hong Kong tell him he's lucky he moved to Canada. Meanwhile, a lot of his friends are asking how to apply for immigration, he said. 

Donna Mah, a Canadian who has lived in Hong Kong since 1992, said while she doesn't live near where the protests have been happening, she has noticed that people in general are more anxious.

This Toronto man did not want to identify himself for fear his family in Hong Kong will be put in danger. He says amid the turmoil many of his friends and family are looking for ways out. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

She said she's long planned to leave Hong Kong but has been postponing the move. The recent political strife, however, has made her re-evaluate. 

"It may have to happen sooner," she said. 

Mah said the area she lives in is very pro-China. Many who support the government are elderly residents who believe the young protesters should just accept how things are, Mah said.

WATCH | Protesters and police clashed at Hong Kong's international airport on Tuesday.

Police, protesters clash at Hong Kong airport

2 years ago
Duration 0:59
Police and protesters clashed at Hong Kong's international airport Tuesday evening after flights were disrupted for a second day. 0:59

She said they believe that the young demonstrators don't understand that they are part of China — and are just making things worse.

"Talk to younger people they feel a bit helpless," she said. "I support the fact they want to maintain their freedom. I am surprised, shocked at the government response."

Mimi Lee, a financial adviser living in Toronto who has organized picnics in solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters, said the majority of people living here who came from Hong Kong feel "fairly helpless."

"We are angry. We are frustrated to see all these things happening from where we came from," she told CBC's Aarti Pole.  "And we have no clue what else we ... can do. And then we don't know where it's going."

Hong Kongers in Canada are concerned about the safety of their friends and family, she said. But she also acknowledged that many friends and family members hold different views on the issues. 

"Last time when I went back to Hong Kong I sat down with friends and within about five, 10 minutes you can feel what's their standpoint. Then I just geared my topics away."

"There's really no point trying to argue or losing friends over something that I can't see how I can change," Lee said. "When it actually gets to them then they will make some changes."

With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters


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