In July 2019, Mehmet Tohti was just hours away from speaking publicly to politicians about the Chinese government’s horrific abuse of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang when he received a message on Twitter:
“Your f—ing mother is dead,” it read.
Tohti had lost contact with his mother in late 2016, three years earlier. He had started to become more vocal about the mass detention and abuse of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, publicly calling it a genocide and alleging the existence of concentration camps.
“And then my mother and 37 family members, close relatives, disappeared,” Tohti said.
“Since October 23, 2016, no phone, no message…nothing.”
He never heard from his mother again.
“I love her so much,” Tohti said softly.
His story is just one of many for activists who speak out against the Chinese government in Canada. Despite being separated by an ocean, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its supporters have methods of keeping activists in Canada under their thumb — and there’s very little that Canadian law enforcement can do about it.
Cherie Wong is painfully aware of this reality.
Cherie Wong describes threats she’s faced while advocating for Hong Kong, intimidation from Chinese government
She had already faced repeated death and rape threats. Knowing full well the kind of intimidation and threats that activists critical of the Chinese government face, Wong had a friend book her Vancouver hotel room under a different name. It was January of 2020, and she was in town to launch her organization, Alliance Canada Hong Kong, which fights for the autonomy of the region.
Sitting in her hotel room, the phone began to ring.
When she answered, she says she was greeted by an intimidating voice. It kept repeating, “we’re coming to get you.”
“It was a very threatening tone on the phone, telling me that ‘we know where you are, this is your room number, and we’re coming to get you,’” Wong said.
She had no idea who it was, but they knew her name and hotel room number — despite the fact that she had taken precautions to shroud that information from anyone contacting the hotel.
“I sat in my room and just started shaking, realizing that I could be in very real danger and not knowing what to do,” she said.
She said she contacted the police, but they told her there was nothing they could do about it. This is a key part of the problem, Wong said: the intimidation activists face often falls into a legal grey area, where there’s very little Canada can do.
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Speaking to a parliamentary committee on March 11, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said those feeling pressure from China can call the RCMP’s national security tip line. That line is open to any and all national security tips and Lucki acknowledged that they “tend to get a lot of tips that aren’t relative to national security or law enforcement.”
“What dissidents face in Canada is often on the grey area of criminal harassment and just discomfort that you feel (in) daily life,” Wong said.
“I can assure you most of the harassment that I personally have experienced, aside from the very extreme death and rape threats, are not criminal activities. But they equally create the same threat for me and my family, whether here in Canada or in Hong Kong.”
For example, Wong said, activists who speak out can often expect their families to get a “tea visit” from government officials back home in China.
“They come and knock on your door and say, ‘we’re coming in to talk to you about your family,’” she explained.
As officials sit down and drink tea with your relatives in China, they offer a chilling warning, according to Wong: “Your family from Canada seem to be very active nowadays. Maybe you should tell them to stop.”
“How do you report that to the RCMP?” Wong asked.
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That’s exactly the fear that was front of mind as Tibetan-Canadian Chemi Lhamo welcomed Hong Kong students to her office when she served as student president of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.
She said other students often stood poised outside the door, snapping photos of the Hong Kong students who entered.
“That means that their families back home would also be subjected to threats, so I had to meet them, actually, in secrecy,” Lhamo explained.
“People would actually come in wearing their masks…like a full head on, sometimes clown masks and sometimes V for Vendetta-type masks, to enter my office to be able to talk to me. And so because of that, whether it was self-censorship or the intimidation tactics, either way, it really came in the way of me being able to actually help them.”
Lhamo understands why these people might want to hide their identities. When she was first elected student president, her stance in favour of Tibet’s liberation garnered the attention of supporters of the Chinese government — and a campaign of harassment ensued.
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Tibet has been under China’s occupation since the 1950s. China’s military invaded and took over the land, brutally cracking down on any pushback from the Tibetans and forcing their leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee to India. In the years since, Tibetan culture has been eroded and any pursuit of Tibetan liberation has been met with prison time, violence and repression.
China, meanwhile, insists the Tibetans are happy and prosperous — but they won’t allow Western journalists or politicians to enter the area and make that determination for themselves.
Lhamo’s grandparents walked on foot over the Himalayas to give her parents a better life in India, where she was born. As she rose to prominence in the University of Toronto’s student government, pro-China supporters flooded her social media with threats.
“I was attacked by these thousands and thousands, I would say over 10,000 messages and comments, which were not just hate speech. I had death threats, rape threats, and they were against me, but also targeting my family members,” Lhamo said.
One comment was similar to a threat Tohti had faced. A comment posted on her Instagram: “your mom is dead.”
She said she immediately called her mother, checking in during the middle of her mom’s workday to see whether she was alright. She was fine, although Lhamo said she was a bit confused about why her daughter was asking.
“Those were the moments where… I realized how much of a threat the Chinese government can still be,” Lhamo said.
“That’s just a peek into the life that I had to live because of the Chinese state influence, despite being born in India and raised in Toronto.”
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But Canadian law enforcement agencies still struggle to help address constant disruptions in the lives of activists like Lhamo, Tohti and Wong. Speaking on March 11, Lucki explained the RCMP receives 120 tips daily on its national security tip line — but that many of the tips can’t be addressed.
“People might feel, for example, a threat. If it doesn’t meet the threshold of a criminal offence, then we normally can’t deal with it, in that sense,” Lucki explained.
She said that sometimes, if the tip doesn’t quite meet the threshold of a national security threat, the RCMP will pass off the case to local police services — but only if there’s a Criminal Code violation involved, such as uttering threats.
Callers can also sometimes find their tip passed along to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). But while there’s multiple national security agencies available to help, Wong said very few can actually do anything to stop the intimidation.
This is because Canada doesn’t have laws against “clandestine foreign influence,” according to Stephanie Carvin, a Carleton University professor and former CSIS analyst.
Clandestine foreign influence refers to secretive efforts by a foreign government to influence policy or action abroad — in layman’s terms, spy missions.
“There’s laws against targeted harassment. There’s laws against intimidating people and uttering threats. But by and large, this becomes very, very hard to prosecute,” Carvin said.
“Sometimes CSIS will interview these individuals just to get a better picture of what’s happening. But at the end of the day, there really isn’t a lot we can do unless we know that these activities are specifically linked to individuals who may be at a consulate or embassy.”
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It’s a reality that’s familiar to Wong.
“Many members of our community, including myself, have spoken with members of local police…some of us have been in touch with CSIS agents. But the general consensus from all of these law enforcement and intelligence agencies is ‘there’s nothing we can do to help you individually,’” Wong said.
But there are things the Canadian government can do to help, she said. They could provide resources to the victims of this harassment in languages like Cantonese, she suggested, as not all members of diaspora communities speak French or English.
Both Wong and Tohti also called on the government to create a registry for foreign agents working in Canada.
It would “bring to light that there are foreign actors active here in Canada, whether Chinese or otherwise, carrying out state sanctioned operations,” Wong said.”
But while they wait for the government to take action, the threats against critics of the Chinese regime continue.
Tohti said he’s had cars parked outside of his house for weeks on end — ones that no neighbours recognize. Individuals have come to his front door in Ottawa asking questions about his activities.
Wong said her internet often fails when she gets on the line with members of Parliament to discuss the plight of Hong Kongers.
Chinese officials continue to visit family members back home in China for ‘tea.’ They often do so after individuals like Wong speak to the media, she said.
And to this day, Tohti still doesn’t know what happened to his mother.
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“And I don’t think the Canadian government understands, truly understands the struggles that Chinese dissidents have been struggling with, not only in the past year, but in the past few decades.”
But, she said, she won’t stop speaking out.
“I’m willing to risk my own safety and my own security if it means that Hong Kong and Canada can feel a little safer.”
Tohti, who has had his entire extended family detained in Xinjiang as he spoke out about the abuses, also stood firm in his convictions.
“There’s nothing in my hand to change the fate of my relatives. Even (if) I stopped today. It wouldn’t change anything. Probably, the Chinese government would increase the pressure, by thinking that the pressure works here. So let’s double up,” he explained.
“It is tough. It is tough.”
But, he said, it’s the right thing to do.
“Despite the risk, despite the danger, you put yourself and you put your family members (in), you have only one choice,” Tohti said.
“To do what is right, and stand on the right side of history.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Cargill to build new Canadian canola plant
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Cargill Inc will build a $350-million canola plant in Regina, Saskatchewan, the U.S. agribusiness said on Thursday, in the latest project that aims to profit from booming demand for oilseeds.
Canola futures hit record highs this week and soybeans have hit multi-year tops as demand for canola to process into vegetable oil and animal feed exceeds supply.
Refiners are also planning to produce renewable diesel from canola and soybeans to comply with government mandates in Canada and several U.S. states to make cleaner-burning fuels.
“There’s going to continue to be strong pull, we believe, into countries like China, from a food perspective,” Jeff Vassart, President of Cargill’s Canadian unit, said in an interview. “We do see increasing demand for renewable diesel too and we want to make sure that we’re positioned for it.”
The plant will have capacity to crush 1 million tonnes of canola annually.
Privately held Cargill expects the plant to start operating by early 2024, creating 50 full-time jobs.
Cargill said it would also modernize its two canola crush facilities in Camrose, Alberta, and Clavet, Saskatchewan to increase volume.
In March, rival Richardson International said it would double its canola-crushing capacity at Yorkton, Saskatchewan, making it Canada‘s largest such plant. Cargill also said last month it would expand its U.S. soybean-crushing capacity.
Vassart said the company is confident that Canada will produce enough canola to match demand, as farmers boost yields and, to a lesser extent, expand plantings. If production does not increase enough, Canada may export less canola seed, he said.
Canadian canola stocks are expected to dwindle to an eight-year low by midsummer, but Cargill expects to be able to continue crushing at a strong pace, Vassart said.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; editing by Grant McCool)
U.S., other countries deepen climate goals at Earth Day summit
By Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and other countries hiked their targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions at a global climate summit hosted by President Joe Biden, an event meant to resurrect U.S. leadership in the fight against global warming.
Biden unveiled the goal to cut emissions by 50%-52% from 2005 levels at the start of a two-day climate summit kicked off on Earth Day and attended virtually by leaders of 40 countries including big emitters China, India and Russia.
The United States, the world’s second-leading emitter after China, seeks to reclaim global leadership in the fight against global warming after former President Donald Trump withdrew the country from international efforts to cut emissions.
“This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” Biden, a Democrat, said at the White House.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the new U.S. goal “game changing” as two other countries made new pledges.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who visited Biden at the White House this month, raised Japan’s target for cutting emissions to 46% by 2030, up from 26%. Environmentalists wanted a pledge of at least 50% while Japan’s powerful business lobby has pushed for national policies that favor coal.
Canada‘s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, raised his country’s goal to a cut of 40%-45% by 2030 below 2005 levels, up from 30%.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced his most ambitious environmental goal yet, saying the country would reach emissions neutrality by 2050, 10 years earlier than the previous goal.
Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic, said the summit had more targets than an archery competition.
“Targets, on their own, won’t lead to emissions cuts,” she said. “That takes real policy and money. And that’s where the whole world is still way off course.”
PUTIN SAYS PROBLEMS GO WAY BACK
Most of the countries did not offer new emissions goals. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China expects its carbon emissions to peak before 2030 and the country will achieve net zero emissions by 2060.
Xi said China will gradually reduce its coal use from 2025 to 2030. China, a leader in producing technology for renewable energy like solar panels, burns large amounts of coal for electricity generation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed giving preferential treatment for foreign investment in clean energy projects, but also made an apparent reference to the United States being historically the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter. “It is no secret that the conditions that facilitated global warming and associated problems go way back,” Putin said.
The U.S. climate goal marks a milestone in Biden’s broader plan to decarbonize the U.S. economy entirely by 2050 – an agenda he says can create millions of good-paying jobs but which many Republicans say will damage the economy.
The U.S. emissions cuts are expected to come from power plants, automobiles, and other sectors across the economy. Sector-specific goals will be laid out later this year.
The new U.S. target nearly doubles former President Barack Obama’s pledge of an emissions cut of 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
How Washington intends to reach its climate goals will be crucial to cementing U.S. credibility on global warming, amid international concerns that America’s commitment to a clean energy economy can shift drastically from one administration to the next.
Biden’s recently introduced $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan contains numerous measures that could deliver some of the emissions cuts needed this decade, including a clean energy standard to achieve net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and moves to electrify the vehicle fleet.
But the measures need to be passed by Congress before becoming reality.
The American Petroleum Institute, the top U.S. oil and gas lobbying group, cautiously welcomed Biden’s pledge but said it must come with policies including a price on carbon, which is a tough sell among some lawmakers.
‘THE U.S. IS BACK’
The summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders – including the G7 and G20 – ahead of annual UN climate talks in November in Scotland. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris agreement, an international accord set in 2015.
Leaders of small island nations vulnerable to rising seas, like Antigua and Barbuda and the Marshall Islands, also spoke at the summit.
World leaders aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists say can prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
A Biden administration official said with the new U.S. target, enhanced commitments from Japan and Canada, and prior targets from the European Union and Britain, countries accounting for more than half the world’s economy were now committed to reductions to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.
European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed delight that the United States was back in the climate fight.
“The importance of this day in my judgment is the world came together,” Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry told reporters at the White House.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcivici; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Elaine Lies and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo, David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Jake Spring and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia, David Stanway in Shanghai, writing by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Lisa Shumaker)
Ontario third wave, blame piled on Doug Ford
By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Ontario Premier Doug Ford, facing backlash over his government’s handling of the pandemic, resisted calls to resign on Thursday as Canada‘s most populous province grappled with a third wave of COVID-19 infections that critics said could have been prevented.
With pressure building on hospitals, Ottawa is sending federal healthcare workers to help. Ontario had 3,682 new infections on Thursday and 40 deaths, the highest of any province.
#Dougfordmustresign has trended on Twitter this week, while newspaper editorials and provincial opposition leaders also called on Ford, 56, to step down.
Some 46% of Ontario residents have a negative view of Ford, up nine percentage points from a week earlier, according to an Abacus Data poll on Wednesday. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives(PC) trailed the opposition provincial Liberals by one point in the same poll, ahead of a June 2022 provincial election.
“Mr. Ford’s real mistake has been repeatedly ignoring the deep bench of scientists who are there to advise him, impulsively imposing himself as the province’s Fearless Decider,” an editorial in the national Globe and Mail newspaper said this week.
The premier ruled out resigning on Thursday, almost a week after issuing unpopular orders to close playgrounds and allow police to randomly stop people, both of which were abandoned within 48 hours.
Multiple police departments refused to enforce Ford’s orders while Toronto-area health units unilaterally ordered businesses that experience outbreaks to close.
“I’m not one to walk away from anything,” an emotional Ford told reporters on Thursday. “I know we got it wrong and we made a mistake, and for that I’m sorry.”
Ford said he was apologizing for acting “too quick”. Critics said the problem was that he opened the economy up too fast after the second wave, and then moved too slowly when it was obvious that cases were spiking.
Had Ontario kept stay-at-home measures in place longer in February, the case-count “would not have been nearly as bad as what we’re seeing now,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital.
“We saw case numbers rising for a month … and they were never really acted on,” said Bogoch, who is a member of the Ontario government’s vaccination task force.
Ford extended stay-at-home measures until mid-May last week and on Thursday said his government would provide paid sick leave to workers who need to isolate, a measure many say would have helped prevent the third wave.
On Thursday, Ford said 40% of the province would have at least one vaccine shot by the end of the month.
But the political damage could be lasting.
“It’s going to be a pretty hard hole to climb out of,” said Frank Graves, president of polling company EKOS Research.
Ford, the brother of Toronto’s late mayor Rob Ford who once admitted to smoking crack, has been in power since 2018, sweeping to an unlikely victory after the PC’s former leader was forced to resign in the midst of the election campaign.
During the 2019 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau capitalized on Ford’s unpopular cost cuts, attacking him repeatedly while touring Ontario, a crucial battleground province that is home to almost 40% of Canada‘s population.
“This does remind me of 2019 where absolutely the best asset in Ontario for the federal Liberal Party was Doug Ford,” a well-placed Liberal source said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Diane Craft)
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