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Richard Shimooka: Diaspora politics are here to stay. Canada needs to get used to it


Editor’s note: On September 18, 2023, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in the House of Commons that Canada’s security agencies are “actively pursuing credible allegations” that “agents of the government of India” were involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.

Last month a prominent Sikh leader in Surrey, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was assassinated in the parking lot of the region’s largest temple. It comes after months of fairly charged discussions about Chinese government interference in elections and society.

The common thread between these events is that diaspora politics is intruding into our broader discourse. Yet, the Canadian body politic seems wholly unable to discuss the issue, much less craft policies that effectively deal with these situations. This is vitally necessary, considering that the historic levels of immigration Canada is currently seeing will grow diaspora groups and magnify the potential issues involved.

The underlying reality is that all diasporas participate in the politics of their home states to some degree. The overwhelming majority of these interactions are benign and even beneficial, strengthening civil society actors, democratic institutions and political development in the countries of origin. In cases where there’s an ongoing conflict, its repercussions will inevitably be felt within Canada. The effects are as varied as the situations they stem from, often as actors from the state of origin will seek to exploit Canada as any opportunity will allow.

A common effort visible in Canada is fundraising or political mobilization. This is not necessarily nefarious or unwelcome. For example Canada’s Ukrainian community has worked hard to build up political support and collect aid for Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion of their country. Another example was the the No Farmers, No Food movement in 2020 against land reforms that would disproportionately affect Sikh farmers in India. Political organization can be a positive force that should not be discouraged.

Yet the types of activities can, and have, expanded to coercion and violence. In the 2000s during the throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, agents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam imposed a war tax on diaspora members in Canada employing among other things, violence against them and family members in order to ensure compliance. Canada itself can be a battleground for these conflicts and the largest terrorist attack on Canadian citizens was the bombing on Air India 182 that left 329 dead.

The potential for diasporas to be drawn into a foreign conflict, willingly or unwillingly, is clear. Yet Canada’s political culture has been almost wholly unable to grapple with this reality. It’s an ironic situation, considering how integral immigration and multiculturalism is to the country’s self identity. There are a number of reasons for this, including a lack of cultural knowledge but one of the most prevalent is a fear of insensitivity among many Canadians, in order to avoid any semblance of racism.

Often this hesitance is exploited by actors for their own purposes. A recent example has been any effort to investigate Chinese communist party infiltration into Canadian society, such as with overseas police stations. Yet the act of trying to investigate these and other efforts, no matter how well-reasoned, is condemned as racist. One can recall in 2010 how then-CSIS director Richard Fadden was censured for his claims that China was attempting to infiltrate Canadian political institutions, or more recent efforts to establish a foreign agents registry.

This situation highlights the groups who likely suffer the most about Canada’s inability to discuss these issues: the diasporas themselves. Most immigrants come to Canada in search of a better life and opportunities, in many cases leaving the conditions of their home country behind. This is particularly true of refugees, who may be fleeing persecution, or overall strife. Yet due to Canada’s political immaturity towards these issues, they are often condemned to remain in the grasp of the same situation, replicated in Canada.

This was clearly revealed over the past several months with respect to Chinese government foreign election interference, where Canadian human rights activists and other groups have reported direct harassment from Communist Party interlocutors, seeking to counter their agenda. Canadians, no matter their background, should have the freedom to express their political views freely and without persecution.

This is not to say that the government has completely abrogated its responsibilities in this area. Rather it has led to a strange political stasis.

CSIS and other national security bodies are active in these communities, trying to stem the tide. It was reported that in the weeks leading up to his assassination, Nijjar was warned by CSIS about credible threats to his life. Yet they can do so much absent of clear political direction and fears of their actions being construed as racist.

This is a problem for a number of reasons. Part of the issue is national political groups, which can tend to regard diasporas as monolithic blocks. Lacking awareness but desiring their support, Canadian candidates can be captured by entities or individuals that purport to represent these communities but support a particular agenda. The recent revelation that Toronto Mayor-elect Olivia Chow unknowingly received support from Pro-CCP groups during the election race is one in a long history of examples.

This is part of the challenge. Canadians require a greater awareness of the political dynamics that underlie these issues. They need not be squeamish about learning more if it is done respectfully and with honest intentions. Continuing this status quo and avoiding these subjects may result in the exact situation that everyone wants to avoid: a rise of intolerant sentiments in the country.

It will embolden racist groups to exploit the situation within the country to attack “outsiders,” sow division and leave the most vulnerable in an even more parlous state. The country, its politicians and population, should and must do better for all Canadians’ benefit.

‘Businesses also have obligations to respect human rights’: Why a corporate watchdog is investigating two Canadian companies


The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise announced today that it is launching investigations into allegations that two Canadian companies, Nike Canada Corp. and Dynasty Gold Corp., benefitted from the use of Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains and operations in China. This represents the first time that the office has undertaken such an investigation.

To help understand the investigation, The Hub is pleased to publish an exclusive Q&A with leading expert Sarah Teich from Fall 2022. She is a Canadian-based lawyer and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute where she studies international law, national security, terrorism, and human rights.

In 2022, she authored a report published by MLI, the Canadian Security Research Group, and the Uyghur rights advocacy project, entitled Justice for Uyghurs: Assessing Legal Frameworks and Options for Action. The report, among other things, sets out legal options for the international community to hold the Chinese Communist Party’s party accountable for what Teich describes as “crimes and abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”

The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

SEAN SPEER: Your paper opens with a blunt statement: “It is well established that the crimes being committed by the Chinese Communist Party’s party against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, constitute genocide pursuant to the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.” Let’s start with a two-part question. First, what is genocide? And second, what is the CCP doing to the Uyghurs that would meet this definition?

SARAH TEICH: Genocide is defined in the UN Genocide Convention. It’s any one of the following five actions when coupled with the intent to destroy in whole or in part, an ethnic, national, racial or religious group. It can be killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy the group, and posing measures to prevent births, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Now as to the second part of the question, that has been established by so many people already and so many institutions when it comes to the Uyghurs and China, the point of contention is now more matter of whether it is just one of the five acts or all of them that are being committed.

SEAN SPEER: If indeed a genocide is being carried out, and you make a persuasive case there and in the paper that it is, what do you think of the international community’s response?

SARAH TEICH: The international community has done some things, but it hasn’t been enough. Under the Genocide Convention, every state party to that convention, which is almost every country in the world, has an obligation to prevent genocide. Countries are really not living up to their obligations under that convention. That even applies if you disagree that it’s a genocide. The obligation of UN members kicks in even if there’s a serious risk of genocide.

SEAN SPEER: One of the most interesting arguments in the paper is that there are a number of international and domestic options for governments to respond, including criminally prosecuting perpetrators in domestic courts using universal jurisdiction laws. Talk about some of your recommendations.

SARAH TEICH: I’ll try not to go through all of them, but maybe pick a couple favourites. The International Court of Justice is, I think, one that we should be pursuing, as well as the International Criminal Court because they target state level responsibility. The difficulty with the ICJ is that China has opted out of the specific article that would enable us to go to the ICJ without its consent. But there’s a legal option to argue there that China’s reservation is contrary to the object and purpose of the treaty, and therefore is of no force in effect. It would be somewhat of a novel legal argument. It’s been tried once before actually and failed. But it’s still something that I think would be worth trying.

Then sanctions. Yes, we have imposed sanctions, but we haven’t imposed enough sanctions. There’s more that can be done. In January 2022, for instance, the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project submitted a list of 10 names to Global Affairs Canada’s sanctions division, asking for sanctions against those officials, and only one of those names was ultimately included in the list. So, I believe more can be done.

There are other domestic tools that are particularly important when we’re talking about China, because as much as these international mechanisms do exist, they’re made really difficult by Chinese influence at the international level, particularly their position on the UN Security Council or human rights bodies. There’s potential for civil lawsuits though that those are made complicated by sovereign immunity. But there’s also criminal prosecutions. The International Criminal Court is not the only option for prosecuting international criminals. We can actually do that domestically in Canadian courts, which not a lot of people know about, using universal jurisdiction cases.

Universal jurisdiction exists for atrocity crimes, which is the umbrella term we use to describe genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It’s enshrined in Canadian law as part of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. It’s been used to prosecute Rwandan war crimes in Canadian courts. The limitation is that the perpetrator would need to be physically present here. They don’t have to be a Canadian resident; they could be here as a visitor, but they must be here. So theoretically, if a CCP official who has responsibility for the crimes being committed, comes to Canada on a visit, he can be arrested and criminally prosecuted.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s discuss the economic and other factors that would influence government decision-making. What role should business interests or economic risks play in how the Canadian government responds to these issues?

SARAH TEICH: The business angle is interesting, because this is something I’ve been working on recently with a couple of different clients. Something that gets lost sometimes in those discussions is that businesses also have obligations to respect human rights. They’re obliged for instance not to have their operations abroad adversely affect human rights. The role of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise is mandated to monitor and investigate these types of cases. So, businesses are just as much on the hook for this as well.

SEAN SPEER: In that vein, do you want to just unpack the paper’s thinking and analysis about the issue of forced labour and the extent to which both Canadian policy but also Canadian business practices ought to be cognizant of what’s going on in this regard in Xinjiang?

SARAH TEICH: First, labour is a huge issue. There are so many research papers that have come out, especially over the last two and a half years, documenting the problem. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute named several dozens of multinational corporations that have Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains. Laura Murphy has done excellent research on this as well.

There have been so many industries and firms caught up in this. It’s a huge problem because we’re not just not doing enough but we’re actually profiting off of the crimes if we continue to buy goods from those companies that use forced labour. That really needs to be tackled.

There are some bills that have been proposed now in Canada to tackle forced labour. S-204 which was put forward by Senator Leo Housakos, is my personal favourite. It actually creates a ban, which, in my opinion, is more effective than other bills that would just create reporting obligations.