If Canada wishes to protect its citizens against foreign attacks, it must act immediately to show Beijing, Moscow and Tehran that their actions have consequences, write Marcus Kolga and Yang Jianli.
By Marcus Kolga and Yang Jianli, July 20, 2020
In May of this year, the Coalition for Human Rights in China published a report exposing incidents of Chinese government harassment against human rights activists in Canada that have taken place between July 2019 and March 2020. The report described efforts undertaken by the Chinese government to suppress dissidents and mobilize overseas Chinese communities to act as agents of influence.
This civil society report follows one published in March by Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), which explicitly warned that regimes like those in China, Russia and Iran are “harassing human rights defenders in Canada and interfering with freedom of assembly and media,” with the aim being to impose a “chilling effect on human rights activism and freedom of expression.”
Both reports provide clear evidence that the Chinese government is intensifying its clandestine operations to threaten, bully, intimidate and silence activists in Canada when they raise concerns about democracy and civil rights in Hong Kong, Beijing’s systemic mass abuse of Uyghur, Tibetan or Falun Gong human rights, or Chinese government influence operations in Canada.
China’s efforts to mute criticism in Canada is occurring in the shadow of that country’s arbitrary, unlawful detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were taken hostage in retaliation for the lawful arrest of Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou on a United States extradition request.Amnesty International Canada has stated that Chinese state actors have almost certainly become emboldened by the inadequate response of Canadian officials.
Canada can help curb China’s barbaric abuse of human rights by threatening to freeze the assets of those who are responsible for them. Minister Champagne signalled last Wednesday, that the government is open to considering the option of Magnitsky sanctions and we urge him to do so in co-ordination with UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Canada should immediately consider adopting legislation that requires the registration of Canadian citizens acting as agents for foreign governments — similar to Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency law. Such legislation will introduce serious punitive consequences for anyone who acts against Canada and its citizens on behalf of malign foreign regimes.
Finally, Canada should consider expelling Chinese diplomats who use their diplomatic cover to engage in information warfare, intimidation and influence operations. Canada’s security agencies are likely aware of which “diplomats” are engaging in such activity. It should be noted that, as of March 2020, China had many more diplomats accredited to Canada than any other nation, with 163 compared to 146 for the United States or 22 for the United Kingdom.
China’s information warfare and influence operations targeting Canada will assuredly only intensify over the coming months. If Canada wishes to protect its citizens against foreign harassment, intimidation and threats, it must act immediately to show Beijing, Moscow and Tehran that their actions have consequences.
The Canadian government speaks loudly of the need to protect international human rights, but it must now back that rhetoric with action if defending the values of human rights, freedom and democracy are truly its aims.
Marcus Kolga is a writer, documentary filmmaker, human rights activist and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Center for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad.
Yang Jianli is founder and president of Initiatives for China. He was imprisoned in China from 2002 to 2007 for attempting to monitor labour unrest.