For Cherie Wong, the threats of rape and homicide she receives on social media are solely a semi-constant reminder that many supporters of the Chinese language Communist Occasion see her as an enemy.
They’re not what scares her essentially the most.
Again in January, Wong — govt director and co-founder of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a bunch urgent the Canadian authorities to defend the previous British colony’s democracy — flew to Vancouver for occasions related to the alliance’s launch. Somebody had been protecting tabs on her, she stated.
“My resort room was booked by another person as a safety measure. And two days after the launch … I obtained a threatening telephone name to my resort room demanding that I depart instantly, that these individuals are coming to gather me,” she stated.
“That was one thing that basically shocked me.”
Wong stated she nonetheless would not know the way her whereabouts have been disclosed. She stated she reported the decision to the police however was informed there was little they might do.
Wong’s expertise is one in all quite a few disturbing incidents reported to a brand new parliamentary committee tasked with wanting into Canada’s fraught relationship with China. The committee’s proceedings have been interrupted by the Trudeau authorities’s choice to prorogue Parliament till later this month.
Doxxed within the diaspora
Wong stated activists in her group had a foretaste of the impotence of Canadian police within the face of such harassment on August 17, 2019, when members of the Hong Kong diaspora rallied in 30 cities all over the world to again Hong Kong’s anti-extradition protests. They have been met by counter-protesters waving Chinese language flags.
Wong stated she was one in all quite a few protest contributors who have been subsequently “doxxed” by on-line antagonists. “They took pictures of me and began digging up my private data, my e mail handle, the place I used to be residing, my telephone quantity,” she stated. “And [they] shared that form of data maliciously by way of WeChat channels.”
Hong Kong activists level to the similarities between the counter-protests that occurred in August 2019 — in nearly each metropolis that noticed pro-Hong Kong demonstrations — as proof that they’re being centrally organized.
They level to the behaviour of the counter-protesters, who typically arrive and depart in massive teams and carry brand-new Chinese language flags with the ironing creases nonetheless seen. However they know that it is laborious to show top-down coordination.
“What we noticed is a sample, whether or not it’s in Canada, within the U.S., in Germany in Japan in Taiwan,” stated Wong. “The counter-protesters present up with Chinese language flags singing the Chinese language nationwide anthem. Their slogans are related: ‘Hong Kong is part of China’, ‘Say no to violence, say no to riots.’
“Now we have seen proof of those counter-protesters being paid. We noticed massive scale coordination on WeChat and Weibo and I feel there’s extra to be seen than simply indignant people.”
Whereas CBC Information has not seen conclusive proof that Hong Kong counter-protesters are being paid, it has spoken to Canadians who received cash payments to seem at one other pro-Beijing demonstration in help of detained Huawei govt Meng Wangzhou.
Wong stated that whereas she would not object to counter-protesters exercising their proper to free expression, she’s alarmed by the truth that a few of them have been noticed photographing pro-Hong Kong demonstrators.
“These people who present as much as protest are additionally saying that they’re a part of the Chinese language Communist Occasion, that they’re sending this data again to the consulate, to the embassy,” she stated. “And coming from an authoritarian regime just like the Chinese language Communist Occasion, [which] has been identified to conduct surveillance operations, suppression techniques, we won’t simply dismiss this as simply counter-protesters.”
A historical past of harassment
Phil Gurski heads Borealis Menace and Threat Consulting in Ottawa. Earlier than becoming a member of the non-public sector he spent three many years as a safety intelligence analyst, a lot of it on the Canadian Safety Intelligence Service (CSIS).
He stated Chinese language-Canadian dissidents have been harassed in Canada by organs of the Chinese language state “since Adam and Eve” — however the Chinese language embassy would take care to keep away from the looks of direct involvement in essentially the most provocative actions.
“Clearly the individuals within the embassy should be somewhat extra cautious as a result of they’re right here in Canada,” he stated. “And whether it is came upon that they’re engaged in actions not according to a diplomatic posting, they might in truth be declared persona non grata and expelled from the nation.”
Gurski stated China can make use of extra delicate types of stress than loud aggressive counter-protests — resembling threats and warnings issued on to dissidents in individual, by telephone, or by way of social media.
That form of stress from diplomatic missions in Canada “is one thing we have been warning about for many years,” he added.
And critics of the regime say that the proven fact that many Chinese language-Canadians nonetheless have members of the family in China provides Beijing sturdy leverage over them.
The embassy reacts
CBC Information requested the Chinese language embassy about among the allegations of harassment which have emerged from the committee’s hearings. The embassy did not reply that query immediately however appeared to reply to one other concern that got here up on the Canada-China committee: the extraterritorial nature of China’s new “nationwide safety” legislation, which makes no distinction between pro-democracy political exercise in Hong Kong and related protests in Canada.
The legislation “solely targets a really slender class of acts that severely jeopardize nationwide safety,” the embassy stated in a written assertion.
“Hong Kong is below the rule of legislation, the place nobody has extra-judicial privilege. In any nation, each proper or freedom has its authorized boundaries. In exercising rights or freedoms, one should abide by the necessities of legislation. Anybody who crosses the boundaries and limits of the legislation shall be delivered to justice.
“Hong Kong is a part of China and Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s inside affairs. We urge the Canadian aspect to have a transparent understanding of the truth and the overwhelming development, and cease interfering within the affairs and judicial independence of Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region].”
Hostages to fortune
“‘We all know the place your dad and mom dwell,'” stated Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Affiliation for Democracy in China. “That is the phrase that they use on a regular basis.
“You already know, it might be just a bit form of telephone name that claims, ‘Hey, by the way in which, I see your dad and mom are doing effectively in … someplace.’ You instantly know that they know the place your dad and mom dwell.
“Folks would say, ‘OK, I higher be quiet, I higher shut up or I higher not do one thing.’ And … should you discuss to individuals, the RCMP or CSIS, they may say, effectively, you possibly can’t forestall individuals from calling individuals up and saying, ‘How are your dad and mom doing?’ Proper?”
Gurski acknowledges that it is tough for Canadian authorities to thwart that form of back-channel stress.
“I completely agree [that] if these are people who find themselves engaged in exercise right here in Canada which the federal government of the Folks’s Republic of China would see as threatening or besmirching the status of the PRC, they would definitely attain out to them and threaten them precisely that approach,” he stated.
“The issue is that if I name up and say, ‘Hey, how’s Mother and Dad?’, you and I could know precisely what I am speaking about, however how do you show that’s truly a really delicate but very direct menace in opposition to one’s household, with the supposed influence that you’re going to cease what you are doing? And should you do not … then you might have one thing occur to your kin again dwelling?
“It could be as apparent because the nostril in your face [but that’s] simply not the identical as proving it in a courtroom of legislation.”
‘In an authoritarian nation, this sort of delicate menace could be very deep within the sense that individuals have an consciousness that you just’re alleged to act sure approach if you obtain a message like that,” stated Kwan.
“And I’ve seen lots of people getting that – even individuals within the Chinese language-language media or editors of TV or newspapers, who may get a telephone name from the Chinese language consulate or their proxies … saying, ‘Hey, we do not like what you simply printed. Please watch out subsequent time.'”
Kwan stated Chinese language authorities can deploy much more delicate types of coercion, resembling leaning on Beijing-friendly companies to withhold promoting spending from sure shops seen as hostile to Beijing.
Removed from dwelling, however not from concern
Up to now, stated Kwan, implied threats to members of the family have been extra alarming for immigrants from mainland China than for Hong Kong ex-pats — who had cause to imagine their households have been safer. That is starting to alter, he added.
Davin Wong (no relation to Cherie) stated he is felt that change personally. The previous appearing head of the Pupil Union of the College of Hong Kong fled the island metropolis final yr following a targeted attack. He has no members of the family in mainland China.
“Canada, after all, is a society with higher freedom and not less than I really feel safer right here than in Hong Kong,” he stated. “However on the similar time, what I’ve witnessed is that different activists who’re combating for Hong Kong in Canada … have been dealing with harassment or possibly intimidation as effectively. So I might say I don’t really feel completely protected right here …
“I do have members of the family again in Hong Kong and that is likely one of the issues that has at all times been at the back of my thoughts, as a result of what we are able to see is that the liberty and in addition autonomy of Hong Kong has been deteriorating so quick previously two years that Hong Kong is not a particular metropolis other than every other cities in China.
“I feel it’s honest to say that having members of the family again in Hong Kong … feels as the identical danger of getting members of the family in China.”
Wong stated he applauds the Trudeau authorities’s choice to finish Canada’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong in response to China’s new nationwide safety legislation. However he stated the federal authorities’s efforts to assist Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp can be higher served by recognizing that welcoming Hong Kong’s dissidents to Canada whereas leaving their members of the family behind permits Beijing to take care of a maintain over them.
“Activists like myself really feel the identical danger and the identical stress as if we hadn’t left Hong Kong in any respect.”