'It feels like a war movie': Canadians describe protests and clashes in Hong Kong
Hong Kong clashes are leading to fear of further escalation for at least some of the 300,000 Canadians living there, with some describing scenes feeling “like a war movie.”
Around the world people have been seeing footage of police violently taking down protesters, tear gas in the streets, massive sit-ins at Hong Kong International Airport, and even one particularly concerning incident of a police officer drawing his gun when he was swarmed by protesters.
And, with the protests going on for 10 weeks, Canadians in Hong Kong and in Canada are worrying things could get even worse.
The violent and chaotic scenes are now familiar ones for Canadian Jesse Lam, who now lives in the city. He told CTV Ottawa via FaceTime that “it feels like a war movie.”
On June 12, the protests had become so widespread that Lam’s office was closed early. But as he was leaving work, he suddenly heard a “loud bang” of a tear gas canister go off and became overwhelmed with smoke.
“Five seconds later, my eyes just started watering and feeling pain. You can't open your eyes,” he described. “You just heard a lot of deafening screams. It was a truly terrifying experience.”
All this is a far cry of his initial thoughts moving back to Hong Kong in March. He said back then there was “a lot of hope in my life. It was a new beginning a new chapter.”
The protests began three months ago largely focused on a controversial new extradition bill but has quickly grew to calling for amnesty for the hundreds arrested and demands of inquiry into recent police brutality.
There were 17 people arrested on Wednesday, bringing the total number of arrests to more than 700 since June. And with reports of Chinese paramilitary troops assembling at the Hong Kong-China border, the end of the two months of unrest seems unlikely.
The Chinese government has been weighing the decision whether to involve military intervention to end the protests and risk even more civilians and protesters being hurt.
The essential shutting down of the city has led to a crippling of one of Asia’s biggest financial hubs, with some investors reportedly pulling out their money and moving it to places such as Singapore. Protesters flooding the Hong Kong International Airport – the 8th biggest one in the world -- even led the airport temporarily being shut down.
PROTESTS AND WORRY ABOUND IN CANADA
The once unthinkable violent scenes in the city are on the mind of Hong Kong native Cherie Wong, who’s now living in Ottawa. She said her first reaction to seeing the protests was thinking: “Let me get a plane ticket and fly home.”
From 12,000 kilometres away in Canada, she said it’s “been hard to watch. Absolutely. It hurts . It hurts so much.” Her family is worrying over her proposed return home, warning her and asking: “Do you really want to be putting yourself in that kind of danger?”
So in the meantime, Wong has just been raising awareness of the protests in Canada as much as she can.
Her message to the protesters and people in Hong Kong is: “Hong Kongers, we stick together, we hang in there together and we go through this together.”
DEMONSTRATIONS TAKING PLACING IN TORONTO, THROUGHOUT CANADA
Around the world and in Canada, pro-democracy solidarity protests and demonstrations have been going on, including one outside of Union Station in Toronto.
Mimi Lee and Kenny Yu were involved with setting up the “John Lennon Wall” there. The protest symbol, named after the Beatles singer, is filled with sticky notes showing solidarity with the demonstrators.
“I’m pretty worried about my friends and my family there. It’s no longer safe place for foreigners travelling there as well,” Yu told CTV’s Your Morning.
Lee said families are divided with some supporting the protesters and others supporting the government. “It’s division that we have never seen between friends and families, which is outrageous,” she said.
Another massive demonstration in Hong Kong is planned for this weekend and civil rights observers are keeping an eye on ongoing abuses, including police shooting rubber bullets at civilians and firing tear gas into confined spaces.
The United Nations and several world leaders have condemned the violence, with 12 countries even issuing travel advisories to the city.
With files from CTV News National Affairs Correspondent Omar Sachedina and CTV’s Your Morning