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‘Do not be afraid’: As Beijing flexes its muscle, groups teach Canadian values to Chinese immigrants

‘Do not be afraid’: As Beijing flexes its muscle, groups teach Canadian values to Chinese immigrants
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It was no big surprise. A Beijing native who openly criticizes her mother country’s government, Wong says she’s not exactly a sought-after figure in the Chinese-immigrant establishment. Buffeted by Beijing’s soft-power muscle-flexing, many in the community shy away from any public criticism of China’s Communist regime.

But an unusual group Wong founded may offer an antidote.

The Civic Engagement Network seeks partly to remind newcomers from the People’s Republic about Canadian values and human rights, and an event Friday — called “What does being Canadian mean?” — will try to drive home the importance of those freedoms.

I feel free to speak up

Among the speakers at a local library branch, is a Vancouver blogger who tested the limits of the democratic system. Bingchen Gao helped expose a 2016 fundraising dinner for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended by a Chinese billionaire, an event that prompted allegations Trudeau was selling access to foreign business people. He later fought off a libel suit by the fundraiser’s host.

“The reason I came here personally was because of what Canada stands for,” said Wong. “I feel free to speak up, I feel free to live the life I want to live without fear … As a Canadian, I want to focus on people from China, Chinese-speaking residents to (help them) understand what this country is all about.”

In her bid to win recent immigrants over to Canada’s liberal system, Wong has some company.

Another Vancouver-area group, the Alliance of the Guard of Canadian Values, holds protests against Chinese policies, but also regular seminars to talk to new immigrants about Canadian democratic principles, says leader Louis Huang.

Some have simply been kept ignorant of the dark side of China’s autocratic system; he speaks to students studying here who know virtually nothing about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Huang said most leave China for Canada to escape that system, but realize that if they question the party line, relatives overseas could be threatened, or businesses they own there undermined.

“Our goal is to tell them, ‘Do not be afraid,’ ” said the former Shanghai pediatrician. “If more and more people speak out, say no to the Chinese Communist Party, we can make progress, one by one, step by step.”

Added Huang: “Canada is a country that welcomes all the immigrants, but all the immigrants have a responsibility to respect Canadian values, to respect human rights, the Charter, our culture.”

Experts, though, say China has funneled unprecedented resources recently into its own campaign to mould opinion in foreign countries, targeting both the Chinese diaspora and business and political elites.

It’s a drive that is attracting new attention in the wake of Canada’s arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, and the diplomatic war with China it set off.

Louis Huang of the Alliance of the Guard of Canadian Values says he speaks to Chinese students studying in Canada who know virtually nothing about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Jeff Widener/AP, File

Huang argues the Chinese Communist party has penetrated “deep in our political, social and economic system” but that governments here are largely oblivious. Like Wong, he has also been ignored by the Beijing-aligned Chinese media, who looked the other way when another of his groups put up bus-shelter ads last year advocating for democracy in China. Only after the Globe and Mail reported on the campaign did one Chinese-language reporter approach him, saying it was now “safe” to cover the story, Huang says.

But he believes the outreach from his Canadian-values coalition is having an impact. At protests outside the Chinese consulate — such as one recently to condemn the detention of two Canadians in China after Meng’s arrest — the number of Chinese-Canadian demonstrators has been growing, said Huang.

Wong’s own story could itself serve as an inspiration for embracing Canadian democratic principles.

She came to Canada as a student in 1981 after her family had defected from Beijing to British-controlled Hong Kong in the early 1970s. As the granddaughter of a former businessman, and thus part of a “blood-sucking” capitalist family, she says she had been bullied and beaten during the Cultural Revolution.

The reason I came here personally was because of what Canada stands for

In her new home, Wong became heavily involved in politics, working for New Democratic Party politician Olivia Chow in Toronto, running as a federal NDP candidate in B.C., and vying for Vancouver mayor in 2014 under the banner of the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE).

Meanwhile, she has also spoken out against the Chinese government, protesting the raising of the Red Flag at Vancouver city hall, and criticizing Communist Party policies online.

At one point, her run for Vancouver mayor brought an informal invitation to the local Chinese consulate, a typical way for the diplomats to reach out to politicians from the community.

The formal invite never came, and Wong hasn’t been asked back since.

“I suspect the consul general found out about my ‘inclination.’ “

He routinely switches false beards, moustaches and hairstyles, even fake tattoos. She swaps wigs, scarves, glasses. Both have a catalog of fantasy names

I am reminded of the Gomery inquiry. Quid pro quos, greasy influence over civil servants, too much power in the PMO: It all seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

There’s not much anyone can do about it. In our system, the prime minister decides whether the prime minister should be held to account

In this occasional series, Jordan Peterson writes from his international speaking tour for his book, 12 Rules for Life
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