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Canada’s Hong Kong diaspora helps new arrivals with jobs, housing, psychotherapy

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Hong Kongers in Canada are banding together to help the latest wave of immigrants fleeing Beijing’s tightening grip on their city.

Networks across the country, some descended from groups set up after China’s crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, are offering new arrivals everything from jobs and accommodation to legal and mental health services and even car rides to the grocery store.

“We are in a battle. These are my comrades, people who share the same values,” one 38-year-old who asked to be identified only as Ho told Reuters. “Who is going to provide that helping hand if I’m not going to?”

Ho runs a cooking school near Toronto, and said he hired a former aide to a Hong Kong democratic politician to promote his business online, and recently took on a new kitchen assistant who took part in the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protests.

Ho, who came to Canada as a teenager before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, is just one person helping the network of support groups that have been formed in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in the past two years.

Immigrants looking after each other is not unique. But people in Canada, which has one of the world’s biggest overseas concentrations of people from Hong Kong, told Reuters the situation is urgent because many of the people they are seeking to help fear they will be arrested for taking part in past protests and may not be able to afford professional help to resettle overseas. 

“It’s my natural duty,” said Ho, who asked not to be identified by his full name, and did not name his new employees, for fear of problems with Hong Kong authorities. “If I was in Hong Kong, I would be in a desperate position. If there was a helping hand, I would hold onto it.” 

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong a year ago, outlawing a wide range of political activities and effectively putting an end to public protests. Many pro-democracy activists and politicians, including prominent Beijing critics Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai, have been arrested under the new law or for protest-related offences. Many people have already left the territory.

    The Hong Kong government and China say the law was necessary to restore stability after the sometimes violent protests of 2019, and that it preserves freedoms guaranteed by Beijing after Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. 

“The Hong Kong national security law upholds the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people,” said a spokesperson for Hong Kong’s Security Bureau. “Any law enforcement actions taken by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies are based on evidence, strictly according to the law, for the acts of the persons or entities concerned.”

CANADIAN ‘PARENTS’

Britain and Canada are two of the most popular destinations for people leaving Hong Kong after the imposition of the national security law.

Some 34,000 people applied to live in Britain in the first two months after the country introduced a new fast-track to residency for Hong Kongers earlier this year, according to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, citing government data.

About a fifth of that number applied for temporary and permanent residency in Canada in the first four months of this year, according to the government. The total number of Hong Kongers going to Canada is likely larger but hard to track as many already hold Canadian passports from earlier waves of emigration.

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers moved there in the 1980s and 1990s for fear they would lose wealth and property, or much of their freedom, after Communist Party-ruled China took back control of the city. 

But the city prospered and retained freedoms unavailable in mainland China, so many Hong Kongers returned home, or kept a foot in each country. The latest wave of emigration looks more likely to be permanent, as China stamps its authority on Hong Kong.

Canada loosened its restrictions on admitting Hong Kongers after the imposition of the national security law last year. It set up a new work visa programme aimed chiefly at young Hong Kongers with a degree or diploma from a post-secondary institution in the last five years, along with two pathways to permanent residency for Hong Kongers in Canada who have recently worked or completed post-secondary studies in the country.

The new coronavirus has complicated matters for new arrivals. Under Canada’s latest travel restrictions, even those who have obtained permission to live and work in Canada through the new programme are only allowed to enter the country if they have a job offer.

That is where the support network comes in. The Toronto Hong Kong Parent Group has so far assisted 40 people, half of whom have already received three-year permits, according to Eric Li, co-founder of the group and former president of the Canada-Hong Kong Link, a rights advocacy organisation established in 1997. 

Li said the group has encouraged 20 employers to offer jobs to people arriving from Hong Kong, including Ho’s cooking school, restaurants, a construction company, a travel agency, and a family who hired a Cantonese tutor for their children.

The Toronto group also has interpreters, lawyers and psychotherapists on hand to help new arrivals and has 10 rooms it can provide as free, temporary accommodation. The rooms are in the members’ or their friends’ homes.

Volunteers in Calgary said they have helped at least 29 asylum seekers, picking many up from the airport and driving them to doctors’ offices, grocery stores and banks. 

STEPPING STONE

Canada has long had one of the largest populations of overseas Hong Kongers, some of whom came together in 2019 to hold rallies in solidarity with the protests back home.

Many of the new groups can trace their roots to activist organisations that formed in response to Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989, or the 1997 handover. The groups already have contacts with social agencies, such as Community Family Services of Ontario or the York Support Services Network, or with churches and professionals willing to help.

The Vancouver Parent Group, supported by the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement that formed in 1989, has raised more than C$80,000 ($65,963) to help Hong Kong protesters settling in Canada with living costs and legal fees.

Vancouver “parents” show new arrivals how to navigate public transport or get a library card, and organise donations of winter clothing or kitchenware, according to Ken Tung, one of the volunteers.

Tung said their aim is to “give them a stepping stone to move on.”

Alison, a protester who left Hong Kong last year after many of her friends there were arrested for taking part in protests, was one of those helped by the Calgary group. 

Along with a few other new arrivals, she launched the Soteria Institute, named after the Greek goddess of safety and salvation, to offer free, weekly, online English lessons, resume-writing workshops and emotional support.

“We understand what they’re experiencing,” said Alison, who asked to be identified by only one name. “We try to use our experience to help out more Hong Kong exiles.”

(Reporting by Sarah Wu in Ottawa; Editing by Marius Zaharia and Bill Rigby)

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Clean fuel standards allow companies to get both tax credits and sell carbon credits

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OTTAWA — Canada’s new emissions standards for gasoline and diesel will allow oil companies that get a federal tax break for installing carbon capture and storage systems to also generate credits based on those systems, which they can then sell to refineries and fuel importers.

Cabinet approved the final regulations for the Clean Fuel Standard last week and The Canadian Press obtained them Monday ahead of their intended publication July 6.

The regulations require Canadian companies that produce or import gasoline or diesel to register as “primary suppliers” and then show how they are ratcheting down the life cycle emissions for the fuels by a fixed amount every year until 2030.

Life cycle emissions include every greenhouse gas produced from initial extraction, through refining, upgrading and transporting, to their final use such as to power a vehicle.

To comply with the new standards, companies need to show that they have reduced the life cycle emissions the required amount through a variety of activities, including buying credits from other companies along the life cycle chain that have reduced their own emissions.

Those credits can come from things such as building electric vehicle charging stations, replacing coal or natural gas power plants with renewable electricity sources, producing and distributing biofuels, or investments in clean technology including carbon capture and storage.

Carbon capture projects that benefit from the new federal tax credit — worth 50 to 60 per cent of the project’s cost — can also generate Clean Fuel Standard credits for sale.

“So they’re double counting,” said NDP environment critic Laurel Collins.

Collins said the Clean Fuel Standard is an “essential” tool to drive investments and conversions to renewable energy, but as it currently stands, it’s not appearing to be doing much of that.

Keith Stewart, the senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, said double counting projects isn’t going to generate additional emissions cuts, and instead just takes the financial weight off companies that are now rolling in cash.

“There is no rational way anyone should get a credit for the Clean Fuel Standard, and a 50 per cent tax credit, along with being able to write it off on the royalties, at a time when oil companies are making more money than God,” he said.

The federal government watered down the Clean Fuel Standard plan in 2020 at a time when fossil fuel companies were struggling because of a pandemic-related oil price plunge. But in 2022, oil prices have surged, largely because of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, and most Canadian companies reported record profits or near-record profits in the first quarter.

Collins is also dismayed that the implementation timeline for the new standards is being pushed back another six months. The draft regulations published in December said they would take effect in December 2022, but the final regulations push that back to the second half of 2023.

An Environment and Climate Change Canada official speaking on background because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the regulations yet said the date was moved to allow a longer time to create the emissions reductions credits gasoline and diesel producers need to comply with the emissions standards.

The Canadian Fuels Association wouldn’t comment on the final version of the regulations until the government officially releases them but said it has long supported the plan.

“The CFA and its members are obligated parties and have consistently been on the public record in support of the Clean Fuel (Standard) because it promotes a ‘technology neutral’ approach to decarbonizing fuels and provides policy certainty that is necessary for companies to plan and invest in low carbon fuels projects,” a statement from the association said Tuesday.

“In preparation for this regulation our members have already committed to billions of dollars of investments in low-carbon fuel technologies.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Support dogs to comfort victims at Quebec’s specialized sexual violent courts

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QUEBEC — Some Quebec domestic assault and sexual violence victims will be able to be accompanied by a support dog during court appearances.

Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says a pilot project is being launched in collaboration with a guide dog training foundation and the province’s crime victims assistance group.

Support dogs will be offered in the province’s specialized courts that were recently created to handle cases of sexual violence and domestic assault.

Jolin-Barrette says the animals’ presence will provide comfort to victims and help them feel more confident and safe as they navigate the legal process.

The courts are located in Quebec City, Beauharnois and Bedford, in the Montérégie region; Drummond, in the Centre-du-Québec region; and St-Maurice, in the Mauricie area.

The Quebec legislature adopted a bill last year to create the specialized tribunals, which are designed to offer a supportive environment to victims who come forward to denounce their alleged abusers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Trudeau expected to face tough questions on Canadian military spending at NATO summit

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MADRID — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to face tough questions at a major NATO summit this week as a new report released by the alliance ahead of the meeting shows Canada heading in the wrong direction when it comes to military spending.

Members of the 30-member military alliance agreed in 2014 to increase their defence spending to two per cent of their national gross domestic product, and the target is expected to be front and centre when the summit begins on Wednesday.

Trudeau met with NATO leaders Tuesday evening at a dinner hosted at the royal palace in Madrid by King Felipe VI, and will begin formal talks in the morning.

The new report released by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg estimates Canadian defence spending will instead decline as a share of GDP to 1.27 per cent this year, down from 1.32 per cent last year and 1.42 per cent in 2020.

The report did not specify the reason for the expected decline, or whether it includes $8 billion in new military spending that was promised in April’s federal budget and whose purpose has not been clearly defined.

Asked about the report during a news conference at the end of this year’s G7 meeting in Germany, as he prepared to head to Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Trudeau said the government has announced several “significant” new investments.

Those include $4.9 billion to upgrade Norad, the shared U.S.-Canadian system used to detect incoming airborne and maritime threats to North America, as well as plans to buy new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s.

The prime minister also said Canada has repeatedly proven its commitment to the NATO alliance by deploying troops and equipment on a variety of missions, including by leading a multinational NATO force in Latvia.

“Canada is always part of NATO missions and continues to step up significantly,” Trudeau said.

“We know how important it is to step up and we will continue to do so to make sure that the world knows that it can count on Canada to be part of advancing the cause of democracy, the rule of law and opportunities for everyone,” he added.

Successive Canadian governments have shown little appetite for meeting the two per cent spending target, which the parliamentary budget officer has estimated would require an extra $75 billion over the next five years.

They have instead emphasized Canada’s numerous other commitments to the alliance, including the provision of 700 Canadian troops to Latvia along with several naval warships to assist with NATO patrols in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

That is despite Canada having agreed to the target, as well as repeated exhortations from Stoltenberg and criticism from American officials in Washington calling on Ottawa to invest more in its military and collective defence.

The continuing decline in Canadian defence spending as a share of GDP will almost certainly lead to even more pointed questions for Trudeau in Madrid than was already expected, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

This is particularly true given confusion surrounding the government’s announcement last week that it plans to invest in Norad modernization, with uncertainty around where the money is actually coming from, when it will be spent and on what.

“I would assume that they were hoping to send a message with the continental defence piece that irrespective of what’s happening in Europe, Canada’s got other defence commitments and that contributes to overall alliance security,” Perry said.

“But the mechanics of how the continental defence piece rolled out would take away from some of that.”

That defence spending is on a downward track when Canada is facing pressure to contribute more overseas and struggling with significant military personnel and equipment shortfalls is also a concern, said Robert Baines of the NATO Association of Canada.

“I’ve always been amazed that Prime Minister Trudeau has facility for dancing over the very serious situation Canada is facing when it comes to defence,” Baines said. “Trying to do so much, and then having so many resource issues and challenges.”

To that end, Trudeau sidestepped a question over whether Canada is prepared to send more troops to Latvia, as NATO seeks to double the size of its forces throughout eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Latvia’s ambassador to Canada told The Canadian Press earlier this week that Canada is talking with allies about reinforcing the Canadian-led battlegroup in his country.

The battlegroup in Latvia is one of four established by NATO in 2017, with Germany leading another such unit in Lithuania and Britain and the United States responsible for forces in Estonia and Poland, respectively.

Germany and Britain have both said in recent weeks that they are ready to lead larger combat units in Lithuania and Estonia, but Canada has so far remained silent about its plans in Latvia.

Trudeau also wouldn’t say whether Canada is prepared to put more of the military on high readiness, as Stoltenberg announced on Monday that the alliance plans to increase the number of troops on standby from 40,000 to 300,000.

“We have been working closely with NATO partners, with the secretary-general of NATO, and especially with the Latvians, where Canada leads the (battlegroup) and is committed to making sure we continue to stand up against Russian,” Trudeau said.

“We, like others, are developing plans to be able to scale up rapidly,” he added. “And those are conversations that I very much look forward to having over the next couple of days in NATO.”

Baines predicted whatever additional troops and equipment are added to the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia will predominantly come from other NATO members as Canada only recently deployed more troops to the region.

The government announced in February that it was sending an artillery unit and 100 additional soldiers to bolster the 600 Canadian troops already in the Baltic state. It also recently deployed two additional warships to the region.

Perry said it remains unclear how much more the Canadian military, which is short about 10,000 service members, has to spare.

“Maybe there’s an ability to find some more at the back of the cupboard,” he said.

“But if the alliance is going to collectively be stepping up with some additional … troop and equipment commitments, then I’m sure there’d be lots of pressure on us to be part of that as well.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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