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Hong Kong tells foreign governments to stop accepting special British passport

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By Greg Torode and Anne Marie Roantree

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Hong Kong government has told some foreign consulates to stop accepting a British travel document that many of its young people use to apply for working holiday visas in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, diplomats say.

In a move seen by some envoys as a diplomatic affront, the government informed about a dozen foreign consulates in a letter that it no longer considered the British National Overseas (BNO) passport a valid travel document as of Jan. 31.

The letter, seen by Reuters, demanded that its Hong Kong passport should be used instead.

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A diplomatic row broke out over the BNO in January after Britain introduced a new visa scheme offering a pathway to full citizenship for Hongkongers who want to leave the Chinese-ruled territory.

Britain launched the scheme after Hong Kong passed a sweeping national security law last year, that critics say is crushing dissent in the former British colony.

Almost 3 million Hong Kong residents hold or are eligible for the BNO document, that was created ahead of Britain handing the city back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong also started to mirror mainland China by not recognising dual nationality, preventing for the first time foreign diplomats from visiting locals with foreign passports in detention.

“Most countries are going to ignore this,” said one senior Western diplomat who had seen the letter.

“It is the Hong Kong government just trying it on…they have no right to tell any state what foreign passports it can recognise.”

Another envoy described the move as “bordering on belligerent” and said it was not the way the Hong Kong government, generally mindful of the city’s standing as an international financial hub, has traditionally behaved.

The Hong Kong government has yet to respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

A Hong Kong government website lists 14 countries under the reciprocal Working Holiday Scheme, including Japan, Canada, Germany, Britain and Australia.

Officials in Japan, South Korea, Italy and New Zealand confirmed to Reuters that they still recognised the BNO passport for visas. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry added that it had not received the letter while Hungary said it had, and had started talks to change the working holiday programme.

Other nations, including the United States, Finland and Norway, also offer similar arrangements or student exchanges for Hongkongers, and have accepted BNOs from applicants.

It is not known if the United States also received the letter but a State Department spokesman told Reuters the BNO remained valid for visa-issuing purposes and travel to the United States.

Hong Kong’s moves against the BNO followed an announcement from the UK government that its new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents.

London said it was fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to Hong Kong’s people in the wake of the national security law, which allows for suspects in serious cases to be taken across the border and tried in mainland Chinese courts.

Beijing and Hong Kong authorities say the legislation is necessary to bring stability to the city after anti-government protests flared in 2019.

The UK scheme allows those with BNO status to live, study and work in Britain for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.

Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens, a line propagated by pro-Beijing media commentators in Hong Kong.

Britain handed its former colony back to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees its core freedoms, extensive autonomy and capitalist way of life would be protected.

 

(Reporting By Greg Torode and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong, additional reporting by Krisztina Than in Hungary, Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo, Hyonhee Shin in South Korea, Praveen Menon in New Zealand and Crispian Balmer in Italy; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Indigenous history class for lawyers justified and more common in Canada: experts

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EDMONTON — As Alberta’s Law Society seeks to defend rules that require members to take a course on Indigenous issues, experts say such measures are common elsewhere in Canada and are well-grounded in legal rationale.

“It is increasingly common that law societies across the country are requiring continuing education in certain particular areas” that include cultural awareness, said Trevor Farrow of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

“The law is continually changing,” said Jeremy Webber of the University of Victoria’s law school.

“The reason for the requirement is to ensure that a lawyer does not continue to practice their area of law as though it were the 1980s.”

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The Law Society of Alberta is to vote Monday on a motion that would suspend the group’s ability to require its members to undertake continuing education. The vote is a response to a petition from 51 lawyers concerned about The Path, a five-part course on Indigenous history and culture that follows one of the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

One signatory to the petition, Glenn Blackett, has called the course “political indoctrination” and compared it to a cancer infecting the roots of Canada’s legal system.

“The vitriol directed at Canadians in The Path seems less likely to promote reconciliation than to promote a distorted perception of history and of the causes of socioeconomic disparity, anger, shame, and enduring Indigenous alienation,” he wrote in the Dorchester Review.

Other signatories have said the course requirement reminds them of their childhood in authoritarian China.

“I understand the concerns around indoctrination and forced speech,” said Farrow.

“I don’t see this as indoctrination. This is continuing education in an area where Canadians have been woefully undereducated. It’s the law society playing part of its role in this larger social project.”

Webber said the complaint’s intent to disallow the society from requiring any continuing education suggests the motivation is elsewhere.

“We’re not talking about indoctrination. We’re talking about an unwillingness to learn.”

British Columbia is one province where the law society requires an Indigenous-themed course.

Other self-regulating professions also require their members to continually upgrade their qualifications.

The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta requires its members to take a certain number of classes every three years. It doesn’t mandate one class for all members, but gives them a range of choices they must pick from.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta requires ongoing education as well as two mandatory courses related to sexual abuse and misconduct.

Requiring such educational updates is part of the bargain such professions make with society, Farrow said.

“The fundamental obligation is to regulate lawyers in the public interest. It’s in the idea of competence and what is required of a modern lawyer where these things rest.”

Nor is it convincing to claim that some types of legal practice don’t intersect with Indigenous issues, Webber said.

“Indigenous people are present in every area of the economy,” he said. “They exercise real control over lands that are important for resource development.”

Then there’s the outsized involvement of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, of which lawyers are an integral part.

“It’s not a secret,” Farrow said. “What the law society and lawyers are going to do about it needs to be part of the solution and I think that’s where some of this comes in.”

About 400 Alberta lawyers have signed a counter-petition in support of the society’s right to require The Path. The law society’s 24 benchers — a type of board of directors — have also publicly opposed the original petition.

Alberta has about 11,000 lawyers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.

 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Canada sends military aircraft into Haiti’s skies as gang violence escalates

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OTTAWA — Canada has sent one of its military planes to Haiti to help the country cope with escalating violence.

A joint statement today from National Defence Minister Anita Anand and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada has deployed a CP-140 Aurora aircraft to help “disrupt the activities of gangs” in Haiti.

Gang violence has become a reality for those living in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince since last summer, with hundreds having reportedly been kidnapped and killed.

The UN has also said gangs are restricting access to necessities like health care and water and are also allegedly sexually assaulting women and children.

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Haiti’s political and humanitarian crisis has led to calls for Western countries to intervene, with the Canadian government saying the aircraft deployment comes in direct response to Haiti’s request for help.

The government says the patrol aircraft is currently in Haiti and will remain there “for a number of days” to help with surveillance and intelligence efforts.

The aircraft deployment is the latest step the government has taken to assist Haiti, and not indicative of a military intervention.

Other support measures to date include levying sanctions against individuals it views as responsible for the violence in Haiti.

“The deployment of a Canadian patrol aircraft will strengthen efforts to fight criminal acts of violence and to establish the conditions necessary for a peaceful and prosperous future,” Anand said in Sunday’s statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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Newfoundland family finds hockey jerseys lost during post-tropical storm Fiona

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Three tupperware bins hold all that remains of Peggy Savery’s life and home since post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged her Newfoundland community and swept away most of her possessions last September.

But those bins now have some unexpected new additions — three hockey jerseys with strong sentimental value she thought were lost for good.

Savery, who grew up in Port aux Basques, N.L., and retired to her hometown with her husband four years ago, lost their home when it was destroyed by a massive wave generated by the deadly storm.

She and her husband fled, leaving behind almost all their possessions, including his glasses and wallet. She said she has accepted that many of their treasured belongings will not be recovered.

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But in the first week of January, while Savery was spending time with her son David and her one-year-old granddaughter in Ottawa, she was surprised to get a message from someone who had found two hockey jerseys that belonged to her family. A third one surfaced a few days later.

The jerseys belonged to David when he played hockey in school and in military college.

Local resident Richard Spencer made the lucky discovery while hunting in early January.

While walking near the Mouse Island shoreline on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, he came across a white hockey jersey sporting red and blue stripes and the name SAVERY on the back. He found another one later the same day and didn’t have to look far to find their rightful owner.

“I know the Saverys and their plight, as the house that they lost originally belonged to my family and was my childhood home,” he said.

“My folks sold it to the Saverys in 2019 and they began to make it their forever home. So we kind of share a bond in that regard. My dad built the house himself with my grandfather.”

Spencer brought the jerseys home in his kayak, dried them out and got in touch with Savery.

Spencer’s message, Savery said, sparked an emotional reaction in the whole family that is nearly impossible to describe.

“(David) was really excited because it’s something he never thought he’d see again,” she said.

“I think he was more excited for us because he saw what it meant for us to get something back… It’s exciting just to have something and it’s exciting to know that people care enough to take the time to collect these things that are frozen in the ground and look like it’s not worth anything.”

The clean, folded jerseys now sit safely in a bin containing  other items that collectively form a tapestry of pre-Fiona memories. They include a charm bracelet that Savery’s father gave her mom and a candle holder her husband’s nephew found in the waters near where her house once stood.

“My dad bought it for me years and years and years ago before I was even married,” she said of the candle holder. “And it was really important to me, because I remember going shopping with him and how excited I was that he bought it for me. … It was pretty exciting to get that back. I didn’t think I’d see it.”

Among the items she has given up hope of finding is her engagement ring, which she wasn’t wearing when Fiona struck.

“At this point there’s so many little things that I know I won’t find,” she said with a sigh. “There’s not one thing that’s any more important than the other. Just anything at all, at this point — it’s nice to find anything.”

Savery, along with her husband, another son and their two cats, have been living with their niece and her husband since the storm washed her house away.

“They haven’t complained, we haven’t argued, but it’s got to be tough on them as well,” she said of the relatives hosting them.

She said the wait for new housing is proving frustrating as she waits for the government to offer guidance on next steps. The insurance company denied her family’s claim after an eight-week wait and they couldn’t apply for government assistance until that denial letter arrived, she said.

Savery said her life is in limbo right now. She feels fortunate to be with family who love her and she is grateful for their help, but she would like to have her own home and put the tragedy of the storm behind her.

“It’s really difficult not to have some direction,” Savery said. “I’m trying not to get upset and lose my cool, but every day becomes harder and harder and harder.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Hina Alam and Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press

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