Canadian researchers and advocates are questioning a decision to allow Hong Kong police officers to compete in the 2023 World Police & Fire Games in Winnipeg as authorities in China place bounties on the heads of pro-democracy legislators, some of which who are living in Canada.
While approximately 300 officers from Hong Kong join an expected 8,500 participants from over 70 countries at the 10-day event in Winnipeg, officials overseas are issuing warrants and offering cash rewards for the return of eight pro-democracy advocates.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a researcher at the University of Ottawa, is confused over why neither the Manitoba government, nor Police & Fire Games organization, reconsidered Hong Kong’s involvement when the bounties were announced.
“We saw the repression of the citizens – more than one million citizens of Hong Kong took to the streets in pro-democracy movements over the space of a number of years and then we had the bounties on eight pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators,” she said. “Why would we be rolling out the red carpet and having a big celebration of their prowess?”
Held every two years, officers from around the world compete at the Police & Fire Games in a number of events. Skills include adventure, archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, bodybuilding, boxing, cycling, dragon boat, football, golfing, judo, rowing, rugby, shooting swimming, table tennis, 10-pin bowling and volleyball.
Amid reports of widespread human rights violations in Hong Kong as protesters decried national security laws, the federal government suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong police in 2020.
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McCuaig-Johnston Suggests other countries who have also suspended extradition laws with Hong Kong in recent years are looking down on Canada for allowing Hong Kong to join in on games.
“I know that events such as this take a lot of meetings, a lot of discussion, surely someone at one of those meetings piped up and said ‘these are Hong Kong police? We’re really having Hong Kong police at this event?’”
Mike Edwards, chief operating officer of the games, said the organizing committee suspended the registration of a number of countries due to the invasion of Ukraine. Russia, Belarus and any country that supports the “illegal incursion” were not permitted to sign up, Edwards said.
The COO declined to comment on Hong Kong’s involvement in the games as the organization views itself as a non-political entity, but said the organization follows guidelines from the federal government on who to permit at the event.
“We check with immigration website who identifies where there are human rights violations and that drives our process.”
According to Global Affairs Canada, sanctions have been imposed on 24 countries and three terrorist entities, including China. The sanctions note the measures were taken in response to “to the gross and systematic human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).”
Officers from the People’s Republic of China were not seen at Friday night’s opening ceremonies.
Mabel Tung, chair of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, said her organization is distressed with the decision to allow officers at the games.
“[The] Canadian government doesn’t really care about human rights,” she said.
The Manitoba government provided $4.9 million in funding for the games, the City of Winnipeg doled out $1.5 million and it also received a $2 million grant from the Western Economic Diversification Canada to exhibit law enforcement technology. The games has an operating budget of approximately $17 million.
The province wasn’t available for comment on Saturday.
Tung thanks the feds for welcoming young Hong Kong residents to Canada to seek asylum from authorities, but noted people exiled to Winnipeg could see police officers and experience PTSD.
“That will create a lot of [anxiety] for them in the city.”
Tung wants to see organizers ban Hong Kon athletes from competing to send a message to China.
“Canadians value our freedom of speech and freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it’s our basic right.”
– with files from Katherine Dornian
World Police and Fire Games opening ceremonies
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