Chi­nese group teaches Cana­dian val­ues, rights

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Black­well

As the of­fi­cial spokes­woman for the Chi­nese-cana­dian fam­ily of a 13-year-old girl mur­dered in Burn­aby, B.C., Meena Wong’s thought­ful com­ments about the case ear­lier this month were broadly cov­ered by the prov­ince’ s English-lan­guage me­dia.

In the lo­cal Chi­nese press, she was all but ig­nored.

It was no big sur­prise. A Beijing na­tive who openly crit­i­cizes her mother coun­try’s gov­ern­ment, Wong says she’s not ex­actly a soughtafter fig­ure in the Chi­nese-im­mi­grant es­tab­lish­ment. Buf­feted by Beijing’s soft­power 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.

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 regu- lar 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 fun­nelled 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.

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 Bei­jin­galigned 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 Chi­ne­se­lan­guage re­porter ap­proach him, say­ing it was now “safe” to cover the story, Huang says.

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.

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.

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