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Become a Cultural Navigator

Become a Cultural Navigator

An open letter to the Right Honorable David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur, Government of Canada

Chinatown parade
A group of immigrants from Hong Kong says that two high-profile politicians who've criticized China were not invited to the 2022 Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown.

The Chinese Canadian Concern Group on CCP’s Human Rights Violations released this open letter on April 21 regarding foreign interference:

We are a group of immigrants from Hong Kong living in Canada. On average, members of our group have been calling Canada home for over 25 years. We care about what is happening in Canada and have participated in various social movements. Some of us are also veteran journalists.

We are writing first and foremost to raise the very serious and evident issue of China’s interference in Canadian affairs, politics, and elections. Those who continue to deny or downplay China’s interference are either ignorant or deliberately working to deflect the Chinese Communist Party’s wrongdoing. Their statements often echo those of the CCP.

The CCP’s infiltration in Canada is widespread, ranging from politics, business, academia, media, and in the community. Here are some examples of how the CCP exerts influence on the Chinese Canadian community in Canada:

Through Chinese Canadian Community Organizations

Many immigrants seek to meeting friends and acquaintances from their hometown through joining hometown and clan benevolent associations. The CCP’s United Front Work Department and Ministry of Overseas Chinese Affairs, as well as the consulates have long infiltrated most Chinese community organizations in Canada. Throughout the years, they have used various methods, such as inviting community leaders to attend official embassy events, banquets, meetings or meals with the Consul General. They provide free trips to China, invite as VIP to attend the grand National Day military parade in Beijing. They appoint community leaders into official or honourable public positions and bestow titles such as overseas representatives of The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. They give money (the Guangdong government had given millions of yuans to Vancouver community groups), gifts, or cultural program sponsorship to community organizations, and so forth. 

These community leaders assist the Chinese consulate in different ways. For example, they will treat the Chinese consul as the most important guest, even over Canadian local, provincial, and federal elected representatives, at community events. They have submitted opinions to parliament as Chinese community organizations and citing their groups’ membership numbers to deny the CCP’s genocide in Xinjiang. They have organized hundreds of Chinese-Canadian community organizations to purchase front and full-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers supporting the CCP’s imposition of the draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong, and held press conference to support the CCP’s claim of sovereignty over the South China Seas, despite such positions being contrary to Canada’s national policy and in contravention of international laws and treaties. These political statements in Chinese-language media serves one purpose only, which is to declare their loyalty to the CCP and their position as their mouthpiece! 

In 2019, when Canadians witnessed police brutality in Hong Kong, pro-democracy demonstrators rallied outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. In response to the solidarity demonstrations and to obfuscate the protester’s messages, pro-CCP community organizations in Vancouver rallied counter-protesters to confront the pro-democracy rallies.

For many years, community organizations that organize the Vancouver Lunar New Year Parade have refused Falun Gong’s participation requests. Alarmingly, in last year’s Chinatown Lunar New Year celebrations, its organizers went as far as not inviting the Member of Parliament representing Vancouver Chinatown, Chinese-Canadian MP Jenny Kwan, and then-mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, to participate. The commonality of these two elected officials is that they have publicly spoken up against China’s human rights record.  

The selective inclusion and exclusion of elected officials to community events is one of the strategies used by these community organizations to incentivize silence on the CCP’s political and human rights record and to exert pressure on elected officials who dare criticize the CCP. In addition, the organizations would mobilize politically against those who oppose the CCP. Such was the case of former mayor Kennedy Stewart’s experience. On one hand, these community organizations boycotted him while promoting and inviting his opponents to attend community events.  

Former Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee was also targeted by the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. Richard Lee was the former president of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement in China and participated in annual activities to commemorate the Tiananmen Massacre outside the consulate. The consulate told Chinese-Canadian community organizations that if they invited Mr. Lee to participate in their activities, the consulate will not send representatives to attend. This caused many community organizations to stop inviting Mr. Lee to events. Mr. Lee subsequently lost the election. 

Through Chinese-language Media

The news media is highly influential in shaping public awareness of their community, country, and the world. In a democratic society, voters’ political opinions, parties, politicians, and voting intentions are all influenced by the media. Many newcomers and first-generation Chinese-Canadian immigrants with English language barriers rely especially on Chinese-language media to stay informed and participate in civic engagement. 

Ten years ago, Vancouver’s Chinese-language media enjoyed and utilized the freedom of the press present in Canada. We could read and listen to various news and diverse commentary on China and current events. However, we have noticed a gradual narrowing of such freedom and diversity. Previously, we could hear diverse political commentary from well-known Hong Kong commentators on radio everyday regarding various issues on Hong Kong and China politics. Suddenly, they seem to have all disappeared. Most of the local radios’ news commentators are now singularly on the side of the CCP. Among them, some denied the genocide in Xinjiang by the CCP. Their language reflects closely the language used by the CCP’s propaganda, such as using the term “Russo-Ukrainian War” or “Special military operation” to refer to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as blaming the United States, NATO, and Ukraine for starting the conflict. AM1320 even had two commentators who were former overseas representatives to CCP’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The CCP’s interference and influence on Canadian Chinese-language media have been increasingly overt and undeniable. Great many Chinese-Canadians rely on Chinese-language media to understand Canadian politics, including during elections. Through the manipulation of Chinese-language media mentioned above, the CCP is at the same time manipulating the civic participation of the Canadian-Chinese community. 

Through Chinese social media

WeChat is a very popular social media platform among Chinese-Canadians, and it is almost used by everyone in mainland China and those who have immigrated from there. WeChat is a Chinese media and messaging platform controlled by and under the surveillance of the Chinese government. All messages sent and published by the platform are monitored by the Chinese government. Any news or content that the Chinese government does not allow are censored and deleted. Instead, the media platform is inundated with official messages, fake news, and smearing propaganda that benefit the CCP. The Chinese Communist Party’s attacks on Canadian MP Kenny Chiu and the Conservative Party through WeChat in 2021 are clear examples. As all politically messaging and information on the platform are monitored, these attack messages would not exist on WeChat without the Chinese government’s permission. After the Russia invasion of Ukraine, WeChat was flooded with anti-Ukraine content, as well as propaganda criticisms of the United States and NATO echoing Chinese and Russian government party lines.

When hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Canadians rely on WeChat and Chinese-language media every day to understand Canadian politics, the CCP’s influence and interference are evident. 

Through Influencing Politicians & Influential Figures  

The CCP’s infiltration and interference in Canadian politics is not a recent phenomenon. Former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan was accused of changing city policies under pressure from the Chinese consulate. 

As quoted in the news article for the above case regarding the experience of a former Chinese diplomat in Australia: “in performing his duties he learned the most effective way ‘to develop influence over Australian political leaders is to provide them with all-expenses-paid travel to China, and with lavish entertainment while they are there. This method is common to all Chinese foreign missions in the west.” 

Over the past few decades, the CCP has invited numerous Canadian politicians, academics, business leaders, and media executives to visit China. Its influences and ambitions cannot be underestimated.

Using Accusations of Racism to Deflect the CCP’s Interference

The CCP has often used racism as a shield to deflect criticism of its human rights violations. In Canada, we have also seen some using this as a shield for China interference, such as Senator Yuen Pau Woo’s comparison of investigations into China interference to the Chinese Exclusion Act a hundred years ago.

Some even equate the discrimination and persecution experienced by Chinese and Japanese Canadians in the past with the call to investigate and prevent China infiltration and interference today, including some historians, which is truly alarming.

Is Canada’s social and political situation a hundred years ago really similar to today? Have Canadians and our country not learned from history? Has our society and national character really remained unimproved? 

Canada incorporated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into its constitution in 1982, guaranteeing non-discrimination against people of different races. Today’s Canada is a multicultural society composed of immigrants, with one-fifth of the population born abroad, and over the past few decades, more than half of the immigrants have come from Asia. Chinese cultural festivals, celebrations, and cuisine have become woven into the Canadian cultural fabric itself. 

In today’s Canada, whether on the streets, in schools, in hospitals, in the media, or in government, we see a society composed of diverse ethnicities that cannot be compared to Canada a hundred years ago. In today’s Canada, there are legal recourses for addressing incidences of racism and hate crimes, and robust advocacy calling on the government to better understand and combat systemic racism.  

Understanding Canada’s history of racism is important, as racism no doubt still exist in society today. However, accusations of racism whenever critiques of political interference and human rights abuses by the China arises harms and weakens Canada’s democratic system, which ironically also weakens Canadians’ ability to combat systemic racism. Fighting foreign interference and fighting racism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, strengthening and protecting Canada’s democratic institutions and protecting minority rights go hand in hand. 

Claiming that foreign interference investigations will lead to the stigmatization of the Chinese-Canadian community obfuscates the true causes of stigmatization and systemic racism. For example, even without accusations of foreign interference, the Muslim community in Canada still faces intense Islamophobia and discrimination.

It is highly distasteful to use the historical victimization, pain and discrimination endured by the Chinese-Canadian community to manipulate the community into furthering the goals of an authoritarian government. It is our hope that Chinese-Canadian will rise from this history in resilience, courage, and solidarity with all people oppressed by authoritarianism, and to work towards fostering a Canadian democracy that will not allow the repeat and perpetuation of discriminatory policies against any vulnerable groups.   

Foreign Interference Threatens Canada’s Democratic System

Democracy is the foundation of Canada, granting its citizens the right to participate in free elections and shape their government. When the will of the voters is influenced by external forces, candidates are obstructed or assisted by foreign governments, or politicians face pressure and harassment from foreign agents, it not only damages the integrity of the country, but also weakens the people’s trust in the government. Foreign interference is an attack and aggression against the nation and Canadian society.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance to defend Canada’s democratic institutions, sovereignty, and independence from foreign interference and manipulation. This is our duty and right. The government cannot ignore foreign interference for fear of being accused of “racism.” Conversely, those who claim to be community leaders and use “racism” as a smokescreen to deflect the CCP’s human rights violations and other atrocities should ask themselves if their actions and words would call the Chinese-Canadian community’s loyalty into question more than having a transparent and accountable investigation process.  

China’s interference in Canadian politics has been on the rise in recent years. Although its influence may not have changed the overall results of federal or municipal elections, this does not mean that China’s infiltration and influence do not exist or can be ignored. Even if only one Member of Parliament loses an election due to China interference, or a candidate wins due to CCP’s assistance, it is a serious act that subverts and weakens the integrity and independence of Canada’s democratic system.

If current public officials have to worry about offending the Chinese consulate or future retaliations with the so-called Chinese-Canadian community when voting or speaking against the Chinese government in parliament, this is already political interference. China’s state media and their Consul General in Vancouver have openly attacked the Conservative Party during federal elections or criticized Mayor Kennedy Stewart, respectively. Afterwards, commentators on WeChat and Chinese-language media launched a barrage of criticisms against Kenny Chiu, the Conservative Party, and Kennedy Stewart. These are undeniable facts and interference in action. 

Regarding media reports of China interference in Canadian federal and municipal elections, we call for a robust public inquiry into any potential violations of Canadian law, including election laws, by foreign agents, Canadian elected officials and political figures. We also call for the government to seek and establish effective measures to counter and terminate foreign interference.  

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.