Canadian couple May Chau and Jean-Christophe Clément moved from Montreal to Cheu’s native Hong Kong 10 years ago. But lately, they’ve been feeling homesick.
“We’re a bit worried, that’s for sure,” Chau said, explaining her fears over Beijing tightening its grip on their semi-autonomous city.
“What we are seeing is a deterioration of basic rights that we had enjoyed when we were living in Canada. And we expect to have those same kind of basic rights in Hong Kong.”
WATCH: Hong Kong protests ensue for 11th straight week, show no signs of slowing
The couple took that message to streets on Sunday, joining 1.7 million others at a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, according to organizers. It marked one of largest gatherings in over two months of protests, sparked by the government’s now-suspended proposal that would have allowed Hong Kong residents facing charges to be extradited to mainland China, which has a conviction rate of around 99 per cent.
“As a Hongkonger and a Canadian, we value democracy,” said Ian Chui, a former Torontonian who joined the rally.
“We are the people. And the people are the boss of the government.”
Chui is one of around 300,000 Canadians who have made Hong Kong their home — the largest Canadian diaspora in any city outside of Canada. And one Canadian in particular has been leading the charge for change.
Denise Ho, 42, grew up in Montreal and is now a household name in Hong Kong. Ho is a Cantonese pop (or Cantopop) music star, who can barely walk the streets of Hong Kong without being mobbed for selfies and autographs. She’s also a prominent activist, who said she first developed a taste for activism during the Quebec referendum in 1995.
Ho recently addressed the United Nations, calling for China to be removed from the Human Rights Council for attempting to erode the autonomy of the former British colony. (In response, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman suggested Ho was “delusional”).
“Really, I think this is a very global issue that we are facing,” she said.
Ho is now calling on her home and native land to stand on guard for Hong Kong.
“There is not enough pressure, whether it’s from the Canadian government or even the British,” Ho said in an interview with Global News.
“We are this global community. And if countries came together to deal with the situation then I think there are things that can be done.“
WATCH: Coverage of the protests in Hong Kong on Global News
For several hours on Sunday, Ho and others clogged city streets in a slow-moving march that was not sanctioned by police. Protesters braved torrential rain and defied ominous threats from Beijing, which had massed Chinese military vehicles along the border.
But not everyone shares her confidence. Some protesters, citing concerns over Beijing’s reach, covered their faces and refused to talk with reporters. One of those willing to speak publicly was Canadian Jean-Christophe Clément, which worries his family back home in Canada.
“We’re a bit concerned, because Jean-Christophe has never been shy about his opinions and ideas on politics and mainland China,” said Clément’s brother Sébastien in Montreal.
“I think there’s got to be a time where they say: Okay, that went too far. And for our own security, we must leave the country now.”
But Jean-Christophe is unwavering in his support for his second home.
“They must be supported,” he said. “They must be helped in keeping the life that they’ve been having up till now.”