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Canadians in China frustrated with government's lack of communication – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Many Canadians in China are unhappy with the government’s lack of communication with its citizens as the coronavirus death toll rises to 132 and more than 6,000 others are infected in China and abroad.

In a WeChat group for Canadian expatriates, users expressed frustration on Wednesday at being unable to reach the embassy or consulate in recent days, particularly as other countries began evacuations of its citizens.

“I just feel that the government has left the Canadians that are not only in China but Hubei out to dry. No words from the consulates or the embassy,” Terry Collinge, a long time ESL teacher in Wuhan, told CTV News. He said because of the Lunar New Year holiday, there has been no response from consulates over the past several days. 

Jan. 27 and 28 are listed as statutory holidays for the Canadian Embassy and consulates in China.

“I hear what the French, British, Americans and even the Japanese are doing for their citizens and still nothing from Canada,” Collinge added. “I just feel that our government is failing us in this matter.”

Canadians outside of Canada are not tracked by the government, and are asked to voluntarily make their location known through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service.

“I’ve registered 3 days ago. Still nothing,” Isabelle Mathieu told the by-invitation-only WeChat group. “That’s all I got,” she wrote, posting to the group a “thank you for registering” form letter she received. 

Mathieu, who is from Saint-Georges de Beauce near Quebec City, has been in China since the end of November. She resides in Chongqing, a stand-alone municipality of more than 30 million people just west of Hubei province.

“Even if I wanted to leave I can’t. The visa centre (has) my passport for the residence permit application.”

One user shared an email she received on Jan. 25, which advised Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to the province of Hubei. “I haven’t heard from them ever since,” she said.

“Canada has to get with it. This is downright shameful,” another user posted.

A Canadian based in Sichuan province tried to connect with the Chongqing consulate during the chat Wednesday and gave up when he could not get through, he said. When he called again later, the number went directly to an “emergency helpline” where he was able to connect with someone. When he asked specifically about repatriation flights, he was told that “they are looking at all options” and that it would be “communicated in the next couple of days.”

Patterson Wu, who arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 13, told CTV News he called the embassy in Beijing on Jan. 27 to ask which hospital he should go to if he developed symptoms. He was transferred to the Shanghai consulate, which directed him to an online post in Chinese that listed contact information for hospitals in Wuhan. But Wu said hospitals typically require Chinese identification cards and the consulate could not tell him whether the hospitals would take patients without them. Hospitals require passports for those who do not have Chinese identity cards.

“Then I asked about (evacuation) and they said there were no plans. I also tried the 24/7 emergency line posted but they were not able to give any advice outside of following local authorities,” Wu said.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne had confirmed that 126 Canadians were seeking the government’s help to leave the country – about half of the 250 Canadians in Hubei province who self-registered.

But on the ground in China, Canadians felt disconnected.

“I am just complaining about their unprofessional lack of communication with us. They have never even made an attempt to form a sense of community with us (unlike other embassies),” said the group’s admin, who did not wish to be named. Her passport is also at a visa centre.

The Costa Rican embassy stays connected to its citizens in China via a WeChat Group and the Colombian government created a support group for its citizens as well, she noted as an example. 

“South Africa has contacted their citizens in Wuhan, according to my (South African) friend in Wuhan. Even Iraq has done something.” She said this was one of their biggest complaints and why they started their own Canadians in China WeChat groups. This group has more than 60 members.

“In short, I think we all want to feel like if sh*t hits the fan the Canadian government is on top of it for us,” said Samantha, a Canadian in Chongqing, who did not wish to use her last name. “Right now it seems they are dilly-dallying…on really addressing the issue for their citizens, especially those in Hubei.”

For some, however, the embassy’s response does not come as a surprise. Anna-Simone Sorial, who is currently in Hainan, China, was in Africa five years ago and tried to seek assistance from the Canadian embassy during an emergency, but was unable to get help. “It’s not the first time that the Canadian Embassy has failed its Canadians when they leave Canada,” she said. 

Some users also noted the lack of updates, aside from the travel advisory warning, on the various government websites such as Global Affairsand Canada in China. The embassy website asks visitors to “connect with us on Twitter”, but Twitter is blocked in China and inaccessible without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection.

“It’d just be nice to have an official update online,” one Canadian wrote.

And many in the chat group are not necessarily looking to evacuate, but simply expect better communication between the government and its citizens.

“Personally I am planning on staying as long as I can. But would still like to hear from them,” said Collinge, who is originally from Sudbury.

Others, like Kai Wood, an international AP high school foreign language teacher and editor in Chongqing, have lived in China for years.

“It’s tough for me. My wife is Chinese from Chongqing, her whole family is here. She doesn’t want to go, so if I left I go alone. I would prefer to stay if I can, I’ve made my life here,” said Wood.

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Passenger aboard Air Canada flight to Vancouver from Montreal tests positive for COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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Air Canada has confirmed that a passenger aboard one of its flights from Montreal to Vancouver on Valentine’s Day has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

The airline said health authorities confirmed the case on Feb. 22, more than a week after the flight. Air Canada says it’s working with public health authorities and has taken “all recommended measures.”

The Montreal Airport Authority told CBC News that it had not been informed about the case by either Air Canada or B.C. public health authorities, but it also wouldn’t expect to hear if they did not feel it was necessary at this stage. 

The plane departed from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport. The airport said it doesn’t know how long the passenger may have been in the airport. 

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Families with members stuck in China call for third Canadian rescue flight – CBC.ca

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Chinese Canadians and others with family stuck in China’s Hubei province are calling for the federal government to send a third plane to repatriate Canadians, visa holders and permanent residents alike. 

The city of Wuhan, China, was locked down in late January, leaving visitors with little or no opportunity to leave.

A group that uses the messaging app WeChat to organize represents at least 50 families with loved ones trapped in Hubei province. 

A letter the group has sent to Global Affairs Canada, and plans to send to several Members of Parliament, states people still trapped either didn’t have enough warning to prepare for the two Canadian flights, felt misinformed about who was allowed to board or didn’t sign onto the government’s registry quickly enough. 

“We strongly urge the Canadian government to repatriate these families promptly by deploying another chartered flight. The longer this ordeal carries on, and the longer the lockdown continues for these unfortunate individuals, the more danger it will impose on the Canadians stuck there,” the letter reads. 

“We cannot bear the thought of losing our family members if something were to happen in the next few weeks.” 

One Canadian citizen, Elaine Cheng, said she chose not to board either plane after learning her husband, who only has a Canadian visa, wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country with her. She opted to stay in Wuhan, and thinks Canada can do better. 

“I think the way they treat my husband, or someone similar to my husband’s situation in China, is totally inhumane,” she said by phone Saturday. “Inhumane, uncompassionate and unfair.”

The B.C.-resident has been trapped in an apartment for the past month with her husband and limited food.

Although she has no plans to abandon her husband, she’d like to return home.

“That’s why I do not choose to live just for my own sake, for humanity and compassion purpose,” she said. “That’s what we, Canadians, advocate in this country and in this world, to other people in other countries, including China.

“We should not be abandoning anybody that has close ties to us in our life.”

Global Affairs responds

Global Affairs Canada didn’t directly respond to questions about whether the department would send a third plane.

But a spokesperson said those trapped in Hubei province can contact Canada’s embassy in Beijing, call its 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa or send a message to the federal government’s SOS email account.

“We remain in regular contact with Canadians in China and are continuing to provide assistance to those in need to the extent possible,” the spokesperson said.

Vancouver-resident Yaqi Huang says her 63-year-old father, a permanent resident of Canada, was visiting her grandfather over the Chinese New Year when the city’s roads were shut down and planes were grounded.

Not only were her father stuck inside the city, he also became separated from the 89-year-old grandfather. 

“Most people feel scared. They feel nervous. They feel trapped by the government,” she said. 

While Huang initially heard only permanent residents accompanying Canadian minors were allowed to leave – a decision made by Chinese officials – she was surprised to hear stories of permanent residents without young children being allowed to leave Wuhan.

After the second plane left, the 37-year-old emailed the Canadian government again.

“To say, ‘So what is the policy for letting people on the flight?'” Huang said. “I say, ‘We just need to know the truth.'”

Yaqi Huang and her 89-year-old grandfather, Dao Li Huang, in Wuhan, China, in 2018. Yaqi’s father is still in Wuhan. (Supplied by Yaqi Huang)

Earlier this month, China’s deputy director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department said the country would loosen its grip and allow Chinese citizens to fly out of the city, accompanied by foreign family members. 

In an emailed response to Huang, however, Global Affairs Canada said the Chinese government maintained absolute authority over who could, and who couldn’t, board the planes. 

“We advocated strongly for Canadians, [permanent residents] and their families to be eligible,” the email dated Feb. 19 reads.

The emailed response says that even if the Canadian government allowed Huang’s father to travel to the airport, Chinese officials would have prevented him from boarding the flight.

“We share your frustration as well. Your parents are, without a doubt, in a difficult situation right now.”

While Huang wants her father to be repatriated and supports the efforts for a third plane to be sent, she’s not hopeful.

“I know it’s a fat chance for the Canadian government to go help, to send an airplane into Wuhan,” she said. “It’s really hard. We just want to be treated [fairly], like other families.”

Other reasons to stay

Kristina Shramko, of Richmond, B.C., said she’s been living in Wuhan for eight months.

After graduating university, the 21-year-old decided to travel. 

She visited Wuhan and, after returning to Canada briefly, had been persuaded to return to China by a romantic partner she started dating. 

When the novel coronavirus epicentre was placed in lockdown, Shramko contacted the Canadian government, hoping to leave the city.  

When she heard about the strict no pets policy on both flights, however, she decided she couldn’t go.

Kristina Shramko, of Richmond, B.C., says she doesn’t want to leave her pet cat, Kitya, in Wuhan. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC)

She had recently adopted a cat, named Kitya.

“Even if I were to leave my cat with a friend, it’s not certain when I would come back,” Shramko said. “To me, it would be abandoning her.”

Elaine Cheng, likewise, has concerns about leaving her cat behind in Wuhan. 

Shramko would like to come home until the outbreak is over, but feels she can’t as long as the pet policy is in place. She said outside of her residence “kind of feels like the zombie apocalypse.”

The Canadian citizen is currently raising money to pay for a plane ticket for her, and Kitya, when travel restrictions on the city are lifted.  

“It’s really important for people to know that there are people who have decided to stay in Wuhan,” she said. 

Wife is trapped

Most of Simon Zheng’s family is now stuck in Wuhan, including his wife. 

The Canadian citizen’s partner, who has a work permit designed for spouses, was also visiting China over the holidays. 

Zheng, a resident of Surrey, B.C., planned to come to Wuhan later in January but was held back by work. Now his wife is stranded with his in-laws and parents, Chinese citizens who live in the city. 

Simon Zheng says his wife is trapped in Wuhan, China. (Supplied by Simon Zheng)

The small business owner feels if he had been in Hubei province, his wife might have been able to board a plane, like some non-Canadian citizens who were permitted to leave.

“I was not there, so she wasn’t able to [be] included in those kinds of groups,” he said.

Zheng said he’s uncertain how long the lockdown will last and fears his family’s limited supplies could run out. 

But he hasn’t given up hope.

The WeChat group he is a part of started with fewer than 10 families, Zheng said, and continues to grow. 

He hopes the federal government takes the pleas of families with loved ones still trapped seriously.

“I have good faith, because we’re doing whatever we can,” he said.

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Violent ends to past Indigenous protests haunt Trudeau government – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The ghosts of Indigenous protests past have hovered over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as his government struggles to bring a peaceful end to blockades that have disrupted traffic on rail lines and other major transportation routes across the country for more than two weeks.

Oka. Ipperwash. Caledonia. Gustafsen Lake. Burnt Church.

Those are just some of the names that evoke grim memories of violent confrontations that resulted from attempts to forcibly shut down Indigenous protests.

Even as he called Friday for police to enforce injunctions and bring down the barricades, Trudeau stressed the need for a peaceful resolution and worried about the potential for another Oka — the 78-day standoff in Quebec in 1990 that left one police officer dead, an Indigenous teenager badly wounded and the relationship between Mohawks and non-Indigenous locals in tatters.

“History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues,” Trudeau said.

The lesson has been repeated countless times over the past 60 years and will continue to be repeated so long as federal and provincial governments fail to resolve Indigenous land claims, in the view of Hayden King, executive director of the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led think tank at Ryerson University.

“We see through Canadian history that Canadians want access to the land, they want to use the land, they want to extract resources from the land and, even if that means harm, significant harm and violence to Indigenous Peoples, that overriding interest has prevailed,” says King.

“And now we’re at a point in Canadian history where all those cases (of violent confrontation) … they’ve all culminated to the point that we’re at now where there isn’t a clear avenue to address this in a climate of so-called reconciliation.”

At least initially, in resisting pressure for immediate enforcement of injunctions and calling for patience, Trudeau struck a markedly different tone than bellicose government leaders faced with similar circumstances in the past.

Michael Coyle, a Western University law professor who specializes in Indigenous rights and dispute resolution, says that was the right approach and “much more likely to lead to a mutually agreed and respectful outcome.”

But under pressure from business leaders, premiers and the public, Trudeau adopted a more assertive tone Friday, insisting the barricade must come down.

While the prime minister insisted he wasn’t directing the police, King says Trudeau was signalling to police that the time had come to move in. King believes, however, that police forces are “less susceptible” to that kind of pressure from political leaders than in the past.

Coyle too, believes police and some politicians have learned from past mistakes that the use of force risks lives, can inflame an already tense situation and doesn’t necessarily lead to “an enduring peaceful outcome.” Police have also learned that enforcing the rule of law includes protecting Indigenous rights, he says.

Indeed, so far, police across the country have shown considerably more restraint and sensitivity than was exhibited by the Ontario Provincial Police in 1995 when members of the Stony Creek First Nation occupied land appropriated by the federal government for a military training camp and the nearby Ipperwash Provincial Park.

Under pressure from the provincial government to quickly remove the protesters from the park and acting on unverified reports of gunfire, dozens of heavily armed OPP officers in riot gear marched towards the protesters at night. In the fear and confusion that followed, Indigenous protester Dudley George was shot and killed.

An inquiry into the Ipperwash crisis was highly critical of the OPP for failing to educate officers on Indigenous rights or to discipline some of the overtly racist officers involved. It also criticized police and the government for not trying first to communicate with protesters or negotiate an end to the park occupation.

In the current crisis, Trudeau has expressed confidence in the “professionalism” of the police to deal with blockades that sprung up across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia. And he has categorically ruled out deploying the military.

Back in 1990, some 800 soldiers wound up facing off against Indigenous protesters after a botched police raid to remove a blockade — set up by Kanesatake Mohawk warriors to protest expansion of a golf course on disputed land that included a Mohawk burial ground — left one officer dead.

The raid inflamed tensions, prompting neighbouring Kahnawake and Akwesasne Mohawks to erect more barricades that shut down highways and the Mercier bridge, cutting off residents in Montreal’s southern suburbs from the island of Montreal. Some infuriated local residents retaliated by throwing stones at cars taking the elderly, women and children out of the Kanesatake reserve.

While Oka and Ipperwash were the deadliest, there have been other instances when attempts to forcibly end Indigenous protests have turned ugly. Here’s a summary of a few:

CALEDONIA (2006)

Mohawks from the Six Nations of the Grand River occupied a construction site for a new subdivision on disputed land in this community southwest of Hamilton. Local residents accused the Mohawks of harassment, intimidation and sabotage and they accused the OPP of doing nothing to protect them. The occupation lasted 52 days before the OPP launched a raid and arrested 16 people. Several police officers were injured and property destroyed. In solidarity, Mohawks of Tyendinaga blocked railroad tracks near Belleville, just as they are doing now in support of the Wet’suwet’en.

GUSTAFSON LAKE (1995)

A rancher tried to kick a small group of First Nations Sundancers off his property — which they claimed was unceded Secwepemc territory — in northern B.C. They refused to leave. Some 400 RCMP officers were deployed to the site, backed up by helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. Gunfights ensued. One Indigenous woman was injured. The standoff lasted several months, said to be one of the largest police actions in Canadian history at a cost of $5.5 million.

BURNT CHURCH (1999-2002)

This began as a long-running dispute between non-Indigenous and Mi’kmaq fishers in New Brunswick, over the Mi’kmaqs’ treaty rights to catch fish and lobster out of season. There were numerous violent confrontations between them, with shots fired. In August 2000, federal fisheries officers launched a raid on Mi’kmaq lobster traps, ramming Mi’kmaq boats and forcing their occupants overboard.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2020.

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