Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I would like to be on the record to speak to Senator Housakos’ motion.
A few months ago, I spoke to my own inquiry on the human rights abuses suffered by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong at the hands of the Hong Kong police with the backing of the Beijing regime. At that time, I did not plan to rise again, but times have changed.
Senators, like you, I believe in thoughtful diplomacy and constructive dialogue on issues and common concerns among nations. Today I stand to support the motion of my colleague and add my voice to the call for stronger actions by Canada in response to China’s step-by-step destruction of democracy in Hong Kong and the disregard of human rights and life across the country, and especially for minority Muslims, the Uighurs. I covered the story of the Uighurs back in the late 1980s and 1990s; I was in that province and you could see then the systematic approach by the Beijing government in what was taking place with the Muslim minority in that region of China.
Senator Housakos’s motion says that the Senate will call upon the Government of Canada to impose sanctions against Chinese or Hong Kong officials pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law) in light of the violation of human rights of the principles of fundamental justice and of the rule of law in relation to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, and to the systematic persecution of minority Muslims in China.
Let me reflect on what has upset me about China’s actions and abuses in only the last number of weeks. Earlier this month, China banned the vigil organized for victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989. The Chinese government authorities banned the peaceful memorial under the cloak of the coronavirus security laws enforced by the Hong Kong police force. Still, thousands of brave Hong Kongers stood up and lit candles all across Hong Kong in memory of what took place in Tiananmen and held a vigil. They have a right to do that, and I sincerely hope they’ll have the right to do that in years to come.
As we know, China has shamefully never acknowledged the victims of the massacre even once in the last 31 years. Then, while other countries are understandably distracted by the health issues within their own borders, the pandemic has allowed China to reach its tentacles further into Hong Kong’s administration. They are ignoring the “one country, two systems” international agreement and they aren’t looking back.
I recently participated in a webinar with Senator Ngo, Senator Housakos and the Honourable David Kilgour, and young democratic leaders in Hong Kong Watch to mark the one-year anniversary since protests erupted in Hong Kong over the proposal of unlawful extradition legislation. This proposed law would have allowed for the extradition of citizens to mainland China where the courts are under the control of the communist regime, rather than a more democratic system in Hong Kong.
After much international attention and months of protests and uproar, the law was reluctantly revoked, but stability has certainly not returned. Hong Kongers are now faced with a draconian security law. Through it all, as we’ve witnessed while we watched television and read, hundreds of innocent people, young people particularly, were beaten and arrested. Some still sit in a maximum security prison for their participation in the pro-democracy demonstrations. In fact, Beijing, as I mentioned concerning the Tiananmen vigil, has used the COVID-19 crisis to reinforce restrictions on movements and gatherings in recent months.
The Hong Kong people, like you and me — people who believe in democracy — should not have to fear, suffer or die to live in a state with democratic peace and with human rights and freedoms. No one should.
China’s abuses do not stop there. I know we are all horrified by the devastating human rights abuses by the Chinese government on the Uighur minority who live in China’s Xinjiang region. They are continually being abused, harassed and arbitrarily arrested. They are not free to practice their religion or customs, their movements and phone calls are monitored and family members are threatened. And it gets worse: of those arrested, more than 1 million Uighurs are in internment camps in Xinjiang. These are so-called re-education camps, and they are an attempt by the regime to fully control every citizen of its country. They are trying to wipe out a culture, a religion and its people in northwestern China.
We have learned of these inhumane practices from Uighurs who have been able to escape from China, although it seems they will never really be free, not completely. This is a statement from Amnesty International:
Uyghurs living overseas are suffering from harassment and intimidation by the Chinese authorities. Around 400 people have told us their stories, recounting intrusive surveillance, intimidating phone calls and even death threats. Their family members in China are targeted to suppress their activism abroad.
These are very serious concerns. These actions by the Beijing government provide a compelling reason, in my view, to use the Magnitsky Law. The Magnitsky Law allows the Canadian government to seize assets in Canada belonging to individuals known to have engaged in gross violations of human rights or corruption, bars these individuals from the country and prohibits Canadians from doing business with them.
I want to invoke a few words from two learned Canadians who are experts on both the legal and, of course, human rights aspects.
One is Errol Mendes, a University of Ottawa law professor and human rights expert. He talks about the Magnitsky Law, saying, “This is the least we can do,” because he believes that, vis-à-vis the Uighurs in China, it’s a massive crime against humanity. He understands, as I think we all understand when dealing with China, that:
It will still no doubt attract even more repercussions from China, but it’s a price we have to pay if we believe in where we stand since the Second World War — that we cannot let it happen again.
Recently, we have seen words from Irwin Cotler, a former colleague in the other place and, of course, an international human rights lawyer who has stood up for Nelson Mandela and many others in Russia who believe in human rights. Of course, he has said we should invoke the Magnitsky Law when it comes to China in dealing with the cover-up of the coronavirus. It’s very serious. He believes it, and he has said it. It has to do with the idea that, for five or six days, the world did not know what took place in China.
Mr. Cotler has said:
If Chinese leaders do not hold themselves accountable . . . at least we in Canada should be imposing visa bans, asset seizures and the like.
Having lived in China, having worked in government, having understood some of the things that happen behind the scenes, thinking of the two Michaels tonight and having listened to Michael Kovrig’s wife last night on CBC — what she is saying is compelling — I’m sensitive to the idea of how we deal with China.
However, I think somewhere along the line there has to be more than just saying we’re very disappointed. I have great respect for the Prime Minister and the foreign minister. I understand, having worked in government, what government is going through. Somewhere along the line, we have to stand up to the bully. In my view, this is the time to stand up and use different forms of action, or at least contemplate using them, talking about them publicly and not shying away.
We have an important role to play in the Senate in terms of what takes place at our borders, when it comes to the two Michaels and the student who came to see me, who now sits in a Hong Kong prison. He came to see other senators. His name is Edward Leung. He spoke about freedom and human rights, and where does he end up? In a Hong Kong jail.
I think we have the right to talk about those people and what they stand for. I can say anything I want, inside or outside the chamber, and I don’t think somebody will pick me up and say, “I’m going to put you in jail for what you believe in.”
If we don’t stand up, who will stand up for what takes place in China — to the Uighurs, the Tibetans, the people of Hong Kong and the young students who are fighting the good fight? I feel there is an opportunity for senators to discuss the Magnitsky Law and to delve into the minutiae of it. It’s a lever that Canada has; it’s there. It has been used against officials in Russia, Venezuela, South Sudan and other places in the world.
As I said, I know the government has raised the human rights issue at every opportunity, but it doesn’t seem to be working. China has shown that it will not listen to reason or to allies. It is playing games with people’s freedoms and precious lives. Beijing needs to be held accountable for the abuses it knowingly inflicts on innocent people. We have seen and heard enough; and, most important, we know enough to demand that these abuses stop, or Canada will act.
I’ve always said that I’m only one voice here, but I have a lived experience. I remember once an official in China telling me that my news stories hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. I said, “I love the Chinese people. I just have a problem with your government, the way it treats its own people.”
I’ve always wanted to have a debate with the Chinese ambassador and others about the way we talk here. Once when I was being wined and dined as a senator, I said, “Could I go back to China and go on the equivalent of CTV in Canada?” It was called China Central Television, or CCTV. I said, “Could I go on your television program and say what I witnessed in Tiananmen Square in 1989?” We have had that discussion here. I’ve had the discussion in the Chinese embassy here. Let me do that, and then I’ll be satisfied that China is an open and free place where people can be heard and say what they want, without fear.
In closing, I know that some senators have a difficult time in supporting Senator Housakos’s motion, but I feel it’s another piece of leverage that Canada could use, and perhaps should use. I want to thank Senator Housakos for bringing this motion to the Senate, and I hope other senators will consider it. Thank you.