It took less than a second, she says, for her to decide that she wouldn’t let Beijing weaken her resolve.
The Hong Kong-born member of Parliament representing Vancouver East has been outspoken against human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party. She often advocates for the country’s Uyghur Muslim minority.
Kwan said in an interview with The Canadian Press that that’s what made her an “evergreen” target of the Chinese government, which has had its eye on her since before the 2019 federal election.
She said she received a briefing from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service last week. She was not able to divulge the details of the intelligence they shared due to security laws. But she did not notice the interference when it was happening, she said.
“My takeaway from that briefing is this: No matter what foreign interference is being done to me, I will not relent on the work that I’m doing,” said Kwan, who is a New Democrat.
She said she was left with a sense that the fight for human rights is more important than ever, especially as the 34th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown approaches on Monday.
“It’s not something that I had when I was in Hong Kong. My parents did not enjoy it. My grandparents did not enjoy it,” said Kwan, adding that she is adamant she won’t be silenced or intimidated.
The 1989 crackdown in Beijing saw tanks roll into the city and hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy student protesters killed.
Mabel Tung, chairwoman of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, said many people in Hong Kong will be marking the day in private.
That’s because the city’s freedoms have shrunk since Beijing imposed a tough national security law following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. Since then, Tiananmen-related statues have been removed from universities and books about the event have been pulled off shelves.
“There is an active approach to erase this history,” said Kwan, who emigrated from Hong Kong when she was nine.
She participated in a pro-democracy march with Tung last weekend in Vancouver to remember the protestors killed in the massacre. Many Hong Kong diaspora members wore masks so their family members back home were not punished.
“We encourage people to wear masks, wear sunglasses and wear a hat so that their faces will not be identified. They’re really scared that they can be recognized,” Tung said.
“People don’t want to be put in jail for anything that is not a crime.”
Kwan said she marched for the parents who cannot light a candle outside their homes to publicly honour their dead children because it would be deemed a violation.
I hope those of us outside of Hong Kong and China would find the courage to speak up and let the people of Hong Kong know we stand with them and that our voice is an extension of their voice,” Kwan said.
She acknowledged that there’s a risk to continuing to speak out while she is being targeted by Beijing.
“People might distance themselves from me or they’re worried what implications this has and how it could affect them,” Kwan said.
“Those are definitely real concerns, but I cannot allow for anything to deter me from doing this work. If I’m afraid to speak up, what does that mean for everyday people?”
Tung said the many ethnic Chinese people in Vancouver are happy that Kwan is defending their freedoms.
“We know we’re not alone. This person is with us to walk this road together,” Tung said.
Still, she admitted that she worries about Kwan’s safety.
But the MP is unshakeable in her belief: “I will not bend. Too much is at stake.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2023.
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