Hong Kong protesters seek new life in Canada


Artist Ricker Choi poses for a photo with his pro-democracy-inspired painting “Lions Rock” in Hong Kong, Toronto, November 18, 2020.

The Globe and Mail

On the evening of July 21, 2019, a crowd wearing white T-shirts and waving sticks attacked pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. In Toronto, artist Ricker Choi was shocked, irritated and sad.

Hong Kong-born Mr Choi, who has a day job as a financial risk management consultant, began painting images related to the protests, dating back to the movement’s beginnings in mid-2019. The paintings now number 30, depicting important events in the protests, and Mr Choi sells copies of some in an effort to raise funds to help Hong Kong democracy activists fleeing to Canada for fear of persecution in China.

“It’s a very scary time in Hong Kong, so I think we should do something to help successful people escape and come to Canada,” said Mr. Choi, 45, who has been painting since. 2013.

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Many Hong Kong people who participated in the months-long uprising against Beijing’s tightening of control fled the former British colony for Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Anxiety among these activists has increased after Beijing imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong this summer that criminalizes dissent and protests with sentences of up to life in prison. This law also applies to alleged offenses against Hong Kong committed outside the region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the city.

Mr. Choi chose four of his paintings for fundraising. One of them, called The kiss, is based on a photo taken by a Reuters correspondent showing a young couple in mask kissing after riot police fired tear gas. Another table, called Save 12 HK Youth, shows a drowning person gesturing number one and five, a reference to the protesters’ slogan “Five demands, not one less”. The painting is an interpretation of an August 2020 incident in which a dozen Hong Kong youths were detained in China after attempting to flee to Taiwan.

Mr Choi, who immigrated from the Asian financial center to Canada in 1988, said he paid little attention to Hong Kong politics before an extradition bill sparked the protests. After seeing two million people in Hong Kong marching through the streets, he said, “Something clicked and really moved. Since then, he said he has closely followed the situation in Hong Kong and participated in Canadian events aimed at showing solidarity with the activists.

“We saw what happened in Hong Kong, the total suppression of the pro-democracy movement,” he said. “I felt angry, extremely angry.”

Mr Choi said he would donate the money to a fund set up by the Vancouver Society to support the democratic movement. Group chairwoman Mabel Tung said her organization has been raising funds to help asylum seekers in Hong Kong since last year. So far, the organization has received more than $ 60,000, more than half of which has gone to current asylum seekers.

The money raised from the sale of Mr. Choi’s artwork will be directed to the next wave of applicants, who Ms. Tung says will arrive after the pandemic restrictions are eased and the border reopened. Canadian.

On November 12, the federal government announced new measures to help young Hong Kongers come to Canada quickly with work and study permits, and new ways for them to stay permanently. As part of this initiative, Canada will waive the usual one-year wait for failed refugee claimants from Hong Kong to have their claim reassessed.

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“We just want to prepare for the next wave of people that will arrive once the door is opened. I am convinced that because of all these policy changes, many Hong Kong people will come to Canada, ”said Ms. Tung.

The new federal arrangements did not specify whether being arrested or charged in connection with protests that began last summer would result in the disqualification of asylum seekers. However, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Ottawa would not deny entry to anyone charged under the new national security law.

Relatively few charges have been laid under the law, but more than 10,000 Hong Kong people have been arrested in connection with the protests, and over 2,000 face other charges, often for “riots.”

Ms Tung praised the new measures, but she and many other activists and advocates in Canada want the federal government to offer more help to Hong Kong people who may face political persecution.

Ms Tung said she hopes Ottawa will issue essential travel visas to activists so they can flee the city soon.

This fall, after Canada began accepting refugees from Hong Kong, Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu warned Ottawa that accepting these people, whom he described as violent criminals, would bring “good health. and the safety ”of 300,000 Canadian passport holders and Hong Kong companies at risk.

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Ms. Tung’s organization helped a young activist settle in Vancouver earlier this year. The Globe and Mail does not identify the activist because he fears being targeted by the Chinese government. The activist, in his 20s, said he decided to leave Hong Kong last October, after several people who participated in protests with him were arrested and charged.

He said it was not an easy decision as his family is still there, but he felt hopeless for the future of his homeland.

“I’m afraid of political prosecution, so I came to Canada,” said the protester, who was among nearly two million people who marched through the streets of Hong Kong last June.

The youth, who is claiming refugee status, has just obtained an entry-level job in Vancouver. He said friends introduced him to Canada.

“They said Canada was a safe country.

Ken Tung, who is also part of the pro-democracy society, said his group and several other organizations led by Hong Kong Canadians have also helped Hong Kong asylum seekers in other ways.

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He said many have volunteered to provide housing for activists, help them find jobs and find counselors to deal with trauma.

« the Hong Kong community in fact [gave] a lot of helping hands, ”Tung said. “I think we’re here to help them build a new life.”

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