Freeland says Canadians in Hong Kong are 'very, very welcome' to come home
OTTAWA -- The hundreds of thousands of Canadians currently living in Hong Kong are "very, very welcome" to come home anytime, according to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
She made the comment during a press conference Wednesday, just hours after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared in an op-ed that his country would be willing to open the door to almost three million Hong Kong citizens.
"There are roughly 300,000 Canadians currently living in Hong Kong. All of those people are Canadian, and of course, dear Canadians living in Hong Kong, you are very, very welcome to come home anytime," Freeland said.
As the tensions continue to boil over in the region, Freeland would not commit to bringing in any specific amount of asylum seekers from Hong Kong. She did, however, emphasize Canada's general continued openness to those seeking refuge from dire situations abroad.
"Canada continues to be a country that welcomes immigrants and asylum seeks from around the world," Freeland said.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino echoed the sentiment in the House of Commons on Wednesday, but cautioned that Canadians returning home from Hong Kong must comply with COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"Those individuals do have the right to return home," said Mendicino.
"But when they exercise that right, they must do so in accordance with the travel restrictions in place to reduce the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19."
The offers are being extended in light of China's planned national security law. Protesters have marched in the streets of Hong Kong to oppose the legislation, which many believe could quash oppositional political activity and civil society in Hong Kong — effectively crushing the one country, two systems agreement.
The system set out Hong Kong's economic and administrative independence from China after it was no longer a British colony.
In his op-ed, published in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Johnson wrote that the proposed national security law would "curtail [Hong Kong's] freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy."
"If China proceeds, this would be in direct conflict with its obligations under the Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations," Johnson wrote.
"Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong."
Johnson continued, explaining that 350,000 people in Hong Kong hold British National Overseas passports and another 2.5 million are eligible to apply. He said Britain would welcome all those individuals, and expand the duration during which they’re allowed to stay in the United Kingdom with no visa.
"Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life – which China pledged to uphold – is under threat. If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative," he wrote.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pressed for answers during his Tuesday press conference on whether Canada intends to take any action to support Hong Kong, but did not explicitly provide an answer.
"We continue to be very concerned about the situation in Hong Kong. We have 300,000 Canadian citizens who live in Hong Kong and millions of others who are fighting for justice and peace. These are things we obviously are watching and following very carefully," Trudeau said.
"We will continue to stand up for peace, for dialogue, for de-escalation of tensions and for Beijing to engage constructively with the people of Hong Kong."
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne was also pressed on whether Canada has contingency plans in place to support its own citizens in Hong Kong. During Wednesday's COVID-19 committee, Champagne was asked if Canada's rapid deployment team is standing by and prepared to help if the situation in Hong Kong escalates.
"We have the current amount of staff that we need in Hong Kong, and as the need would be, Mr. Speaker, we will be prepared like we’ve done in Wuhan, and like we've done when we repatriated Canadians from more than 110 countries. We can deploy these teams," said Champagne.
Meanwhile, Canada is already facing its own difficulties in its relationship with China.
Tensions between Canada and China plunged into a deep freeze following Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou's arrest in December 2018. Canadian authorities arrested Meng in Vancouver after the United States requested her extradition.
The arrest infuriated China, which subsequently arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in what the Canadian government has described as retaliation — though China insists otherwise. China also briefly banned the import of Canadian beef and pork, blaming it on a banned animal feed additive they claim was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.
A recent B.C. Supreme Court decision made against Meng's legal team incensed the Chinese even further. State-run media declared Canada a "pathetic clown" and many experts are now saying that Canada should be bracing for further retaliation from the powerful country.
Despite China track record of retaliation, world leaders are being urged to stand up against China and support Hong Kong.
In a petition, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Sunny Cheung, Joshua Wong, and Nathan Law called on European leaders to stand up against the national security law, saying in the petition that "it would inevitably become a tool for oppression and censorship against those who seek the truth and tell the truth."
"We urge the governments of the U.K., members States of the EU, namely Germany, France, and Italy, etc. as well as other non-EU European states, such Switzerland, to stand with freedom and democracy and to stand with Hong Kong in pressuring the Beijing government to retrieve its Bill," the petition read.