Political crackdown prompts Hong Kongers to leave, and start new lives on P.E.I.

·9 min read
Daniel Leung poses for a picture in front of Tiger Hobby, the store he opened through the Provincial Nominee Program. (CBC/Arturo Chang - image credit)
Daniel Leung poses for a picture in front of Tiger Hobby, the store he opened through the Provincial Nominee Program. (CBC/Arturo Chang - image credit)

June 30, 2020. That's when Daniel Leung knew he had to go.

On that day, the Chinese government enacted the Hong Kong national security law, criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion in the former British colony.

Essentially, it made it easier for the mainland government to crack down on dissent following the riots and protests that shut down the semi-autonomous territory for over a year starting in 2019.

Leung, a Hong Konger, said he had been participating in pro-democracy marches every July 1 since he was a university student, and that it was no different during the years leading up to the law's enactment.

But something changed in 2020: He began to feel afraid.

"We want to say, to shout to the government that 'Don't do this, this is wrong.' But I think everybody knows that when you show something that the government doing is wrong, then you will be caught and be put into jail. That is very scary. And it's not — this is not justice," he said.

"At that moment, I sit down with my wife and talk, think about 'Is Hong Kong is safe place that we can stay longer?' So that's when we decided to come to Canada."

Leung, his wife Mona and their two adult children are just some of the Hong Kongers who decided to leave the territory for good in the last two years.

Some of those who chose P.E.I. as their final destination told CBC News they picked the province due to less stringent immigration requirements.

But for Leung, his family and others, that didn't make the decision to emigrate any easier. It would mean leaving relatives and friends behind, quitting jobs and schools, selling everything they owned and starting all over again.

"We sacrifice our career, we sacrifice all the things. But I think this is worth for us to do it," Leung said.

"I don't want my kids one day, when they are my age [to be] living in a trap."

Disillusionment

Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

The recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong can be traced to the 2014 Umbrella Movement, but the incident which directly triggered the mass demonstrations was the introduction of a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China in June 2019.

That June, there were two major rallies which are estimated to have drawn over a million people each in a city with a population of seven million.

Galen Ho participated in both of them, but he said he quickly started to have his doubts that anything would change. He then began planning his move to P.E.I.

"The two million people protest is a turning point. I mean, the government … taught us that protest peacefully doesn't work," Ho said. He now runs a personal blog in Chinese where he talks about life in P.E.I.

"P.E.I. is five times bigger than Hong Kong, but there are two million people [walking] out to tell the government that we don't need their bills. But the government just keep saying no."

Submitted by Cindy Peng
Submitted by Cindy Peng

The core group of protesters was made out of young people.

Cindy Peng, who studies business in P.E.I., had just finished high school when the demonstrations began.

Peng was there for the major rallies, but she said she stopped going once police ceased tolerating the protests and violent clashes between the pro- and anti-government camps worsened.

"What I would do is like, some posters, we would stick them in the tunnel, you know, the street and stuff," she said. "Notices to all: today or next week, we will have this kind of protest here."

Peng said she knew people around the same age who were arrested by police. Some other Hong Kongers in P.E.I. told CBC News that they were hesitant to speak about the protests even now for fears of prosecution should they ever be back in Hong Kong.

Though Peng believed in the protesters' cause, she said the enactment of the national security law made her decide to leave her hometown for good.

"I still love Hong Kong," she said. "But it's just something that if you love that place, it's so hard for you to see that place is corrupting, like it's rotten."

Streams A and B

CBC/Arturo Chang
CBC/Arturo Chang

Peng said there are about a couple dozen UPEI students from Hong Kong, and all of the ones she has met plan to stay in Canada as permanent residents through one of the new pathways opened by the federal government in 2021.

Streams A and B are open for Hong Kong residents who graduated from a Canadian institution or have work experience in the country.

Cristian Ho graduated from UPEI this year and plans to apply for Stream A. Cristian, who moved to P.E.I. before the protests began, said he now intends to bring his family here as well.

"I was reading articles and articles, watching videos, seeing people getting beaten up by police. There was one time that my sister nearly got arrested by police — and she was just on a bus. She wasn't doing anything  — because there are protesters on the bus," he said.

"I really wanted to try my best to get a job ... then bring my family to Canada, to a place which has freedom. So that's my intention."

Cristian said that while life on P.E.I. is different to life in a mega-city, he prefers it to life in Hong Kong. But whether he'll stay in the Island for the long term will depend on the available opportunities.

"I want to become a designer, but there aren't much designer job openings," he said. "I am planning to stay for two years, then I would be thinking about what I should do."

Provincial nominees

Cristian said that due to the political situation, he has seen an increase in the number of people arriving from Hong Kong in the last two years, most immigrating through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

On P.E.I., the program favours skilled workers in areas where there are labour market gaps, as well as entrepreneurs.

Under the 100 per cent ownership stream, applicants must have a minimum net worth of $600,000, a detailed business plan and set aside $150,000 to go toward their new business.

"After certain research, the PNP program from P.E.I. government looks feasible," Galen Ho said. He runs a shop at the Confederation Court Mall where he sells Japanese household items.

"[Under PNP] we have to keep our business now at least three years ... so the ultimate goal, of course, after three years, I can continue running my business and to sustain my living."

Submitted by Galen Ho
Submitted by Galen Ho

But setting up a new business through PNP is not a walk in the park.

"Finding a place [for] the shops or the office is not quite easy, especially last year ... and rent is expensive," Gary Man said. He and Diana Chui migrated to open up a event planning business last year.

"Doing business, a new business, in another country is, I think, really a challenge in terms of how to get the connections," Chui said. "We are not studying here. And then we have no friends. And we don't know people."

Because the principal applicant to the PNP program can't work anywhere except their new business, that puts a lot of pressure on the business to succeed — and on family members of the principal applicant to find jobs elsewhere.

"I'm a librarian, working for a university in Hong Kong. I'm looking for similar jobs here, but actually there's only two high education [institutions] here ... so not too many opportunities," Chui said.

Galen said there are definitely some Hong Kongers in P.E.I. who are "struggling" to sustain their business.

But he said the major issue for most people is the long backlog in permanent residence applications which grew worse during the pandemic.

"[It went] from one year to two years, and now the latest is 28 months," he said. "We are expecting the whole process will be getting longer and longer."

Migration politics

CBC/Arturo Chang
CBC/Arturo Chang

In the meantime, the Hong Kong community on P.E.I. continues to be close and politically engaged. A recent screening at City Cinema of a documentary on the protest drew a full crowd of people.

"We wanted the local community to know that was going on in Hong Kong. Why there are a lot of Hong Kong people moving to the country," Peng said.

"We watched it together and it was a full house of Hong Kongers. That's so touching ... Even if we're not in Hong Kong, that connection will still be there because we're from Hong Kong."

"We want to treat the Island as our home now," Galen said. "We don't want to keep moving to different places, like every three, four, five years ... We want to treat Canada as our home, because there's no way we can go back to Hong Kong."

Sitting on glass displays at a Confederation Court Mall, a sight, so far, very novel to P.E.I.: rows of plastic models based on a hit Japanese animated series which started in the 80s.

"Gundam is very famous in Japan ... They're robots, fake robots. Some kind of Transformer," Leung said. "Some of the customers, they are very surprised when they see all this stuff here."

It's the main product sold at the store Leung set up through the PNP program. Opening the store cost his family more than just money — both his son and daughter had to quit their studies in law and education respectively.

Nevertheless, Leung said it was necessary.

"I talked to him and say that you study [law] in a place that the country or the city didn't obey the law. Why you study there?" he said. "I talked to my daughter... if you graduate and you will be a teacher one day, you will be very scared. You're at risk here. Every day, you need to think about if you speak something wrong ...

"We come to Canada because of my kids. I can tell you that."

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