Cross Country Checkup

Foreign Affairs parliamentary secretary says 'plans are in place' to assist Canadian citizens in Hong Kong

Speaking to Cross Country Checkup on Sunday, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Oliphant defended Canada's "consistent," "strong" response to Hong Kong protests.

MP Rob Oliphant defends Canada's 'consistent,' 'strong' response to Hong Kong protests

Anti-extradition bill protesters march to demand democracy and political reforms, in Hong Kong on Aug. 18, 2019. An estimated 1.7 million demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday. (Aly Song/Reuters)

The parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government is taking a "strong" and "careful" approach to continued pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Rob Oliphant, member of Parliament for Don Valley West in Toronto, told Cross Country Checkup he advised Freeland of growing discord in the region back in May.

In a joint statement with the European Union issued Saturday, Freeland said, "It is crucial that restraint be exercised, violence rejected and urgent steps taken to de-escalate the situation," of the situation in Hong Kong.

Protests against an anti-extradition bill tabled by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam have entered their 11th week.

In a phone interview with Checkup guest host David Common on Sunday, Oliphant added that "plans are in place" to assist Canadian citizens in Hong Kong should violence escalate.

Below is part of that conversation.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Oliphant told Cross Country Checkup on Sunday that he advised of potential unrest after a May visit to Hong Kong. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Why is it the government sees what seems like a quiet and very measured, low-level approach is the right one, at least publicly, with China?

I would say our approach is consistent and it's strong and it's careful. I think that would be the hallmark of what we were attempting to do. 

I was in Hong Kong at the end of May. The minister — Minister Freeland — asked that I join a delegation and go to both China and Hong Kong, and this was after the extradition changes had been proposed and while they were under discussion. 

When I came back, I advised the officials and Chrystia [Freeland] that, indeed, this was a very, very tense and difficult situation. It was before the demonstrations had started, but I was expecting demonstrations at any time. 

At that stage, we issued a joint statement with the U.K. urging restraint and urging that the administration in Hong Kong listen to its citizens. 

Yesterday ... the minister offered another statement which, I think, is a very strongly worded statement with the European Union saying that fundamental freedoms, including the right of peaceful assembly and the autonomy that Hong Kong has exercised under the One Country, Two Systems principle, are enshrined and must continue to be upheld. 

We saw over the course of the week just across from Hong Kong, in Shenzhen on the mainland of China, paramilitary forces practicing very openly in what appeared to be a very threatening way what they might do if they were to move in on protesters. 

When you have 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong — some of whom, many of whom have been joining those protests — what are the concerns of the government of Canada and what plans are there if this should escalate?

We are obviously calling for a de-escalation. That is the first thing that the minister has called for.

We're calling for dialogue. We're calling for, with a sense of urgency, that there be restraint exercised; that violence be rejected. So we are doing that. 

We are in close contact. Our consulate is open. Jeff Nankivell, the consul general and his team, are there; they're answering questions.

There is a travel advisory and we stress that any Canadian travelling to or living in Hong Kong consult the travel advisory and consult it regularly, mainly because of the demonstrations. That's our concern right now. 

When I came back from Hong Kong, I immediately asked the question to the public safety minister, "Are we prepared to help Canadians if they are in a situation that becomes untenable for them?" And absolutely, plans are in place.

Dozens of military vehicles are seen parked on the grounds of the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China, on Aug. 15, 2019. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Can you share any of those? I mean, you're talking a vast, huge number of people. You couldn't find enough planes to get people out if it came down to it.

Well, those discussions are underway. The Canadian government will always stand with Canadian citizens who are in harm's way.

I won't get into details on that, but the various government departments have discussed this and we are watching very closely. 

It is not our first hope. Our first hope is that there be broad-based and inclusive dialogue; that the key stakeholders are met with and talked to. 

That the administration — the Chief Executive [Carrie Lam] — listens to the voices of the people of Hong Kong and listens to their concerns and honestly addresses them. That is our first goal.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Written by Jason Vermes with files from Samantha 


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