A petition urging the Canadian government to reconsider a foreign agent registry closed with below-average performance despite being promoted by high-profile politicians and community activists.
While the petition’s author thought the 2,450 signatures garnered was a good outcome, other people in the community believe it shows using the race card as a tool to deflect criticism towards China’s interference in Canada is losing its effect among Chinese Canadians.
E-4395, the petition in question, was initiated by B.C. resident Li Wang (a.k.a. Ally Wang) – who has been at the forefront of several anti-Asian racism campaigns in Richmond – in mid-April and was sponsored by Chandra Arya, Liberal member of Parliament for Nepean, Ont.
The 2,450 signatures are slightly less than the average outcome of Canadian e-petitions, and accounts for only a small fraction of popular petitions submitted to Parliament.
In the petition, Wang, a Chinese Canadian community leader who led protests outside of Richmond Provincial Court last year amid a trial for a racist incident at Steveston’s Rocanini Coffee Roasters, claimed a foreign agent registry would be “a misleading way to identify sources of foreign influence” and would pose “a serious harassment and stigmatization risk for racialized communities.”
A foreign agent registry would require individuals and organizations that advocate on behalf of foreign states to register with the Canadian government and disclose their ties to the foreign governments employing them.
The wording in the proposed legislation, however, doesn’t name any specific country or government.
During the three-month period to gather signatures, a variety of campaigns were run to promote the petition throughout Canada, both online and offline.
Some of these campaigns featured high-ranking politicians such as Conservative Senator Victor Oh, independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo and the aforementioned Arya.
Many of these activities were intertwined with events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the enactment of Canada’s historical racist Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, commonly referred to as the “Chinese Exclusion Act.”
Woo spoke in the Senate, wrote a letter to the Public Safety Minister, published Twitter posts and attended multiple events to advocate against the registry, comparing it to a modern form of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Additionally, he provided directions for petition e-4395 and helped draft the petition.
Kenny Chiu, former MP for Steveston-Richmond East who tabled Canada’s first foreign agent registry bill, C-282, in April 2021, said the wording of his bill was carefully crafted not to point fingers at any country and the subsequent bill in the Senate with similar content didn’t specify any countries either.
Chiu’s bill died on the order papers when a snap election was called in September 2021.
During the 2021 election, Chiu was allegedly targeted by a disinformation campaign about his foreign-registry bill that portrayed it as “anti-Chinese” and Chiu as a “traitor of the Chinese people.”
Chiu was defeated in the election after just one term as MP.
In November 2021, Senator Leo Housakos introduced S-237, essentially reviving Chiu’s foreign agent registry bill.
For Chiu, the recent cases of Bill Majcher, Alexander Csergo and Sam Dastyari clearly show that foreign interference law is “race agnostic.”
Bill Majcher, a former RCMP officer was arrested in Vancouver in July on foreign interference charges. Alexander Csergo, an Australian businessman, was charged with a foreign interference offence in Sydney in April.
Sam Dastyari, an Australian senator, was forced to resign in 2018 amid raging anger from the public about his unusual links to a foreign government-backed donor. None of the three accused are of Chinese ethnicity.
As for Wang’s petition, Chiu said it’s “her right to start a petition and voice her opinions, but we should debate based on facts instead of allegations with misleading information.”
When asked to predict whether the Canadian government would eventually implement a foreign agent registry, Chiu said, “If this government won’t, the next government will.”
Wang pleased with petition numbers
In an email to Richmond News, Wang said 2,450 was a good outcome as it was close to average. Wang also pointed out 2,450 is “well above” 500, the minimum requirement for an e-petition to be presented to the government.
Wang didn’t say, however, whether she’d keep campaigning against a foreign agent registry as she’s still waiting for the government’s answer to the petition in September.
Senator Woo said by getting 2,450 signatures “the petition more than met its objective” as the purpose of the petition was to respond to a government consultation on a proposed foreign influence transparency registry.
Woo added the petition obtained more signatures than e-4172, a petition that calls for a foreign agent registry.
The latter petition was initiated by Saskatchewan resident Tsz Lok Chan and sponsored by Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman. It obtained 2,109 signatures within two months.
Arya and Senator Oh did not respond to Richmond News’ emails requesting comment.
Ivy Li, spokesperson for the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong (CFHK), said the low outcome of the petition against the foreign registry shows Canadians, regardless of ethnicity, are not buying the racial arguments in the petition.
As many of the campaigns for the petition were held in the Chinese community, Li concluded the majority of Canadians with Chinese ethnicity actually support a foreign influence transparency registration (FITR). This is similar to the findings of a 2021 Nanos survey that shows 88% of Canadians support a foreign agent registry.
Li said Chinese Canadians understand the benefits of a FITR to the Chinese community as the registry could “expose the bad apples and help protect innocent Chinese Canadians.”
Another pro-democracy organization, the Chinese Canadian Concern Group on CCP’s Human Rights Violations, has been cautioning Canadians for months about the race card being used as a tool to deflect criticism from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and investigations into China’s influence in Canada.
In an open letter issued in April, the Concerned Group said, “The CCP has often used racism as a shield to deflect criticism of its human rights violations…. Some even equate the discrimination and persecution experienced by Chinese and Japanese Canadians in the past with the call to investigate and prevent China infiltration and interference today, including some historians, which is truly alarming.”
Members of the Concern Group, which includes Richmond’s Victor Ho and Bill Chu, have lived in Canada for about 25 years.
The open letter also listed a range of infiltration tactics by the CCP, including mobilization efforts through Chinese Canadian community groups, manipulation of Canadian Chinese-language media, censorship and propaganda on Chinese social media such as WeChat, and connections with local politicians and influential figures.
The House of Commons receives roughly 200 e-petitions each year that gather more than 500,000 signatures annually.
The average number of signatures for an e-petition is around 2,500.
In order to get a response from the government, an e-petition must receive a minimum of 500 valid signatures. Petitions reaching or exceeding 500 signatures will be certified and presented to the House of Commons, and the government will need to issue a formal response within 45 calendar days or after the opening of the new session of the Parliament.
The House of Commons is currently in recess for the summer and will reconvene on Sept. 18.
Cynthia Mao is a B.C.-based New Canadian Media correspondent currently on a work experience placement with Glacier Media. This article was originally published in the Richmond News.