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Canada

Liberal party membership forms distributed at pro-Beijing rally against Hong Kong protests

As speaker after speaker criticized the mass protests in Hong Kong and defended the Chinese government at a Toronto-area rally recently, a different kind of politicking was quietly unfolding.

Several members of the crowd of about 200 passed around and appeared to fill in Liberal membership forms, a striking juxtaposition between Canada’s governing party and backers of China’s Communist regime.

A Liberal spokesman said Thursday the forms looked to be ones that haven’t been used for three years — since the party ended paid memberships — and which would not be accepted today as valid registrations.

And the party had nothing at all to do with the rally, he added.

But critics of the Chinese government say they’re troubled that any kind of Liberal recruiting efforts might have taken place at a pro-Beijing event, calling it more evidence of China’s sway within Canadian politics generally.

“You can see the close connection between the pro-Beijing camp and the Liberal party,” said Gloria Fung of the group Canada-Hong Kong Link. “But … the pro-Beijing camp actually has their people in different federal parties. It’s not only confined to the Liberal party. I can easily name people in the Conservative party who are advocates of the Chinese government’s interests.”

The Aug. 11 rally at King Square shopping centre in Markham featured a number of speakers who portrayed the massive demonstrations in Hong Kong as a dangerous threat to the city’s peace, stability and economy.

The protests have brought as many as a million or more people to the streets for the past 11 weeks, decrying a law that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, calling for the investigation of alleged police brutality and demanding democratic reforms. Some have become violent.

Speakers at the Markham event included Michael Chan, who until last year was an Ontario Liberal cabinet minister.

Chinese-language media reports had said Han Dong, another former MPP who is now running for the federal Liberal nomination in Toronto’s Don Valley North riding, would also attend. One of the event’s moderators mentioned his name, too. But Dong issued a statement later saying neither he nor any of his campaign team were at the rally. He could not be reached for comment.

Recruiting new members is a timeworn way for would-be candidates to win party nominations.

John Yuen, a Toronto-based supporter of the Hong Kong democracy movement attended the Markham rally to observe, and said he videotaped people passing around forms bearing the Liberal logo.

In the video, posted on Facebook, some of the audience members begin filling out the papers.

Photographs taken by another observer at the rally, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Wilfred, provide a closer look at the form. It appears to be the same as one that was available for download from the Liberal website as recently as Wednesday evening. The National Post asked about the incident Thursday morning, and the download page had been disabled by the afternoon.

Secondary school students at an anti- government rally on Aug. 22, 2019 in Hong Kong. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The form, which includes payment options, has not been used since 2016, when the federal Liberals decided to make membership in the party free, said spokesman Braeden Caley.

“Those images do not appear to be authentic Liberal registration forms, and they would not be accepted as valid by the party,” he said. “The Liberal Party of Canada was not involved in the event … in any respect.”

Canadians can now join the party without charge by registering online.

Regardless, the presence of partisan political activity at the event raised eyebrows within the Chinese-Canadian community.

“I was very alarmed,” said Fenella Sung of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, who suggested the Liberal party investigate how it happened.

Fung of Canada-Hong Kong Link said she sees the incident as more evidence of Beijing’s attempts to involve itself in Canadian politics, an important issue with an election looming.

“I consider this to be a major threat to our democracy,” she said.

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