The Sunday Magazine

Canadian voters in Hong Kong on democracy, Canada-China relations and the federal election

For the first time, Canadians who have been living abroad for more than five years are able to vote in the federal election for the first time. Our largest ex-pat community is in Hong Kong, home to more than 300,000 Canadians. Three Canadian citizens active in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement discuss their thoughts about the election and the role Canada could play in safeguarding democracy and the rights of Canadians abroad.
Protestors light their torches during a peaceful rally in central Hong Kong's business district, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. The protests that started in June over a now-shelved extradition bill have since snowballed into an anti-China campaign amid anger over what many view as Beijing's interference in Hong Kong's autonomy that was granted when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. (Felipe Dana/The Associated Press)

In past elections, Canadian citizens who had been living abroad for more than five years were not allowed to cast a ballot. But recent legislation means that Canadians overseas will have a say in who becomes the next prime minister.  

The largest community of Canadian citizens outside North America is in Hong Kong, which is home to more than 300,000 Canadians.

This year, those Canadians have found themselves living in the midst of an existential fight over the future of democracy in Hong Kong. Since March, the city has been roiled by near-constant protests and unrest, which began in response to an extradition bill with China. 

The Sunday Edition spoke to three pro-democracy Canadians in Hong Kong about what's most important to them during this federal election.

Christopher Ke-Cheong Yeung, who lived in Richmond, B.C. as a teenager and is now a radio host in Hong Kong, has been part of the street protests since June. 

"It is the 21st century right now. But tyranny is turning a free city into a police state. I just cannot accept that happening in front of me," he said. 

People attend a gathering to protest against what they say is the abuse of pro-democracy protesters by Hong Kong police, at Chater Garden in Central district, Hong Kong, China October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera (Susana Vera/Reuters)

Growing support for the Conservatives 

Yeung said he still hadn't made up his mind about who to vote for, but he's not satisfied with how the Liberal government has responded to the situation in Hong Kong. 

"I appreciate the Conservatives, as they are the only party [holding an] election campaign in Hong Kong," he said. 

"However, I still haven't heard from Mr. Scheer what he will do about us. But also, I shall keep an eye on the NDP — see if they can come up with anything else."

In a recent poll of Canadian voters in Hong Kong conducted by Mainstreet, 57 per cent of "leaning or deciding" respondents said they support the Conservatives.

Edward Chin, a hedge fund manager and co-founder of the pro-democracy group 2047 Hong Kong Monitor, said the Conservatives have been holding voter registration drives in the city. He said Scheer's tougher rhetoric on China, including promise to ban Huawei from 5G networks in Canada, are resonating with voters in the city. 

"I think some Canadians who will vote from Hong Kong would think that's a plus," he said. 

At an event organized by the Canadian consulate, Chin helped create a video encouraging Canadians in Hong Kong to vote. But he's not sure how high turnout will be. 

"I think the response has not been too great, partially because of what's going on. We're having a war going on. We're fighting for Hong Kong people's survival," he said. 

What could the next government do?

Wilson Leung, a Canadian citizen and member of the Progressive Lawyers Group in Hong Kong, said his top priority as a voter is Canada's foreign policy — in particular, its approach to China. 

The Trudeau government has issued statements of concern about the situation in Hong Kong, but Leung said "in terms of concrete steps and actions it's been mostly disappointing." He'd like to see Canada pass legislation similar to the U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

"One of [the measures] is to basically allow for sanctions against Hong Kong or Chinese officials who've been violating human rights. Canada can look at passing similar Hong Kong focused legislation, or even look at sanctions under the existing Magnitsky Act," he said. 

People march to protest against what they say is the abuse of pro-democracy protesters by Hong Kong police, at Chater Garden in Central district, Hong Kong, China October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera (Susana Vera/Reuters)

He'd also like to see Canada consider granting asylum to Hong Kong residents who might be at risk of imprisonment because of their involvement in the protests. 

"We'd be looking at whether they should be granted asylum under the existing laws or whether anything needs to be done to enhance those laws. For example, part of the U.S. package is that they won't deny visas based on the fact that someone has been convicted of a protest-related offence in Hong Kong." 

He said there has been a surge of inquiries to immigration consultants from people considering leaving because of the unrest.

"For Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, obviously they have the right to go to Canada, but for a lot of Canadian citizens, they haven't actually lived in Canada for decades. So there could be assistance in how they would transition back," he said. 

Leung said many people consider Canada an attractive place to move because they see it as a beacon of democracy and human rights, "but the flipside of that is Canada has a certain responsibility to uphold those values when they are threatened in other places."

In WW II, thousands of Canadians were involved in defending Hong Kong from Japan, he pointed out. 

"We're at another forefront of another conflict between the free world and the authoritarian world, and in my view, Canada has a responsibility to take up its position as one of the leading beacons of the free world."

Click 'listen' above to hear the segment.

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