HK-Canadian activist’s call to impose Act to sanction HK officials may be in vain

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An activist at a Toronto protest called for the Canadian government to step in with the Magnitsky Act’s use against HK officials. It is highly unlikely Canada would do such a thing.

Photo: The “We the North will not be silenced” march begins in downtown Toronto on 20 October, 2019. Credit to Jasmine Lee.

At a march that took place on Sunday in the city of Toronto to support pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Canadian Friends of Hong Kong‘s core member Ivy Li urged the Canadian government to implement sanctions on individuals in Hong Kong through the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, more commonly referred to in Canada as the Magnitsky Law. In her speech which preceded the hundreds-strong march, Ms Li’s call to action has come upon increasingly urgent times, citing incidents of police abuse with tear gas and live bullets, inhumane treatment in HK detention centres, and several “suspicious” suicide cases. 

The Magnitsky Law is a mechanism by which the Canadian government can impose “restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”. Since its legislation in 2017, which was first used to 52 individuals in Venezuela, Russia, and South Sudan. Ms Li’s proposal called for the government to “impose sanctions on Chinese and HK government officials who are responsible for violating Hongkongers’ human rights.”

Jonathan Manthorpe, international affairs columnist and author of Claws of the Panda, does not think it is likely the act would be applied to Hong Kong. “While there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence of the police instigating violence, I think the evidence would need to be a lot more clear cut for Ottawa to feel justified in applying the act.” He also adds that given the large Canadian population in HK into consideration, Ottawa would not want to act in a way that would compromise their safety or “cause dissent among them.”

Canadian activists have also urged the government to enforce the Act against Chinese officials for the “confinement” of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang in “re-education camps”, which the UN refers to as concentration camps. The capture and inhumane treatment of two Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor which came in response to the detention of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou are also part of the motive behind these activists’ request. 

So far, their calls to action have come to no avail with the Canadian government when it comes to enforcing the Magnitsky Law on either Hong Kong or Chinese officials. The idea presented in Ms Li’s speech seems not to have caught on anywhere else. For now, any chance of placing sanctions on these parties is slim to none.

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