Andrew Chen: Democracy Groups Concerned About Toronto Mayor Chow’s Meetings With Beijing-Aligned Groups
Democracy activists and Hong Kong groups are expressing concern about Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow's repeated meetings with organizations that take positions aligned with Beijing.
On Aug. 19, Ms. Chow attended a celebration event held by the Lem Si Ho Tong (LSHT) Society, a Toronto-based clan association for individuals sharing the surname Lem, also spelled Lam, according to a WeChat post by local Chinese radio station FM105.9.
The LSHT had in August 2019 participated in a rally endorsing Beijing's clampdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, despite wide criticism of the regime's violent treatment of protesters.
At the time the LSHT was also one of 68 Canadian-based Chinese organizations that signed a joint statement expressing support for the Hong Kong police's "stringent actions" in addressing the pro-democracy movement, which they described as a "riot" in line with official terminology. The police measures were marked by multiple rounds of tear gas and pepper spray, use of a police water cannon and rubber bullets, and allegations of police raping a detained female protester.
During her election campaign in May, Ms. Chow also attended an event held by the Council of Newcomer Organizations, another Toronto-based Chinese organization that has published statements vehemently criticizing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
"When political figures in Canada engage in community activities, they should have a certain level of discernment regarding [groups] that have long supported authoritarian, anti-freedom, and anti-democracy stances," Sheng Xue, a Toronto-based human rights activist and a key leader of the overseas Chinese pro-democracy movement, said in an interview.
"Political figures should be cautious, since from one perspective you are objectively giving these groups a platform. Not only that but also what it reflects is that people think you are supporting [these groups] even though they support the Hong Kong police. Of course the effect [of shaping societal perceptions and acceptance of certain behaviours] could form."
Ms. Sheng said Ms. Chow's attendance at the LSHT event can be seen as displaying support for the group's apparent longtime leanings in support of the Beijing's regime positions, the Hong Kong government, and the Hong Kong police and their suppression of the people.
Under these circumstances, political figures can in fact choose whether or not to stand with those entities, Ms. Sheng said, "because by standing with them, it also demonstrates that you give recognition to the kinds of rhetoric, attitudes, viewpoints, and stances these communities exhibit in Canadian society."
Apart from Ms. Chow, photos provided in the YesMyRadio report show a number of other Canadian politicians in attendance at the LSHT event, including Liberal MP Paul Chiang, Toronto city councillor Jamaal Myers, and Regional Councillor Alan Ho of the City of Markham, Ontario.
"Their attendance [at the LSHT event] and participation is wrong," said Jiang Jiaji, a representative from pro-democracy group the Democratic Alliance Hong Kong.
By attending the event, Mr. Jiang said the politicians are lending support to the CCP, which is known for human rights violations against ethnic and religious minority groups.
Ms. Chow, Mr. Chiang, Mr. Myers, and Mr. Ho did not respond to requests for comment from The Epoch Times. The LSHT also did not respond to a request for comment.
Past Staunch Critic of CCP’s Rights Abuses
Ms. Chow's repeated meetings with pro-Beijing groups have raised eyebrows among those who know her as having been a staunch critic of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, a tragic incident during which the CCP employed deadly force against students advocating for democracy in China.
Ms. Sheng said she finds it "heart-wrenching" to see Ms. Chow and others in the Chinese community increasingly aligning their stances with Beijing. She noted that Ms. Chow had for many years attended an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Massacre but did not join this year's event while running for mayor. Instead, she participated in events held by organizations like the LSHT that have voiced support for Beijing's positions.
Ms. Sheng noted that many Canadians in politics, business, academia, and the media, including individuals of both Chinese and non-Chinese heritage, are increasingly being cautious about their speech and actions, fearing that upsetting Beijing might hinder their travel or business prospects in China.
"They are now self-censoring, believing that it's best to avoid provoking the CCP. This kind of collective subconscious mindset of self-censorship has taken shape, including among Canadian politicians," Ms. Sheng said.
‘The Most Crucial Challenge’
Ms. Sheng also expressed a sense of urgency for Canada to join allies like the United States in developing mechanisms to address foreign influence activities by Beijing.
Over the past year, the U.S. government has arrested and charged several individuals in relation to spying or engaging in foreign interference for China. For observers like Ms. Sheng, there is not as much action in Canada against CCP's influence activities.
Canada currently doesn't have a law requiring those acting on behalf of foreign powers to register their activities, unlike the United States and Australia. The federal government says it is conducting public consultations on whether to establish a foreign influence transparency registry.
Ms. Sheng noted that Canada has long been hailed as a champion of human rights and should therefore live up to its name.
"In today's world, the most crucial challenge in upholding human rights is confronting the Chinese Communist Party," she said. "If Canada dares not take a stand to confront the CCP, then its reputation as a human rights champion is damaged."