National Post

‘Eyes wide open’ on Beijing visa office security: minister

- ryan tumilty rtumilty@postmedia.com Twitter: Ryantumilt­y

OTTAWA • Immigratio­n Minister Marco Mendicino said he is confident a contract with a company owned by the Beijing police adequately protects personal informatio­n of people applying to Canada for visas.

Canada has since 2008 contracted the Beijing Shuangxion­g Foreign Service Company, to run visa processing services for people seeking to visit Canada.

The company is run by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.

Mendicino insisted the government is closely monitoring the company with regular audits and security screening of all employees who work there.

“We are eyes wide open on this issue and we will continue to manage these risks going forward,” he said.

At the House of Commons immigratio­n committee on Wednesday, Conservati­ve MP Jasraj Singh Hallan asked Mendicino if the government was even considerin­g the massive risk of espionage.

He said simply screening staff isn’t sufficient in a country like China.

“The Chinese Communist Party develops a fake identity with an attempt to infiltrate our overseas visa office, via espionage and collect visa applicatio­ns and then runs them through the hiring process for the subcontrac­tor. How would we even know about it?” Hallan asked. “Even one Chinese spy could destroy the entire functionin­g of the office and cause a significan­t security threat.”

NDP immigratio­n critic Jenny Kwan said she doesn’t understand why the government can’t see the problem.

“The truth is the entire structure stinks and this is a huge conflict of interest for the safety of applicants,” she said.

Mendicino said, “I understand and appreciate your concerns. I am confident in the protocols that we have put in place to manage the risks that exist in foreign environmen­ts, including in China.

The minister also took several questions on the situation in Hong Kong and whether Canada would do more to ensure people could leave Hong Kong, as the former British colony is facing an erosion of democratic rights and a new national security law.

Later this week, it is expected China will further tighten its grip on Hong Kong with changes to the electoral system that will further restrict the area’s independen­ce.

Mendicino said the government is working with allies to monitor the situation.

“At this difficult moment. Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Hong Kong and shares the grave concerns of the internatio­nal community.”

Late last year, the government opened up more opportunit­ies for people from Hong Kong to immigrate to Canada, including allowing students to apply for work permits, but the government has not been clear about whether more widespread resettleme­nt for refugees could be possible.

Mendicino did commit that no one arrested in any of the large-scale protests Hong Kong has seen would be banned from coming to Canada.

“No Hong Kongers will be prevented from coming to Canada or claiming asylum, because they have participat­ed in peaceful protests.”

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