Vancouver police bring in more officers as tempers flare at competing Hong Kong protests

Vancouver Police put more officers onto the streets on Saturday afternoon as tempers flared at competing pro-Hong Kong and pro-China demonstrations.

"We are aware of the Vancouver rallies planned for today. We have additional resources in place and we are prepared to address public safety issues should they arise. We will continue to monitor the gatherings throughout the day," Sgt. Jason Robillard wrote in an email.

Supporters of Hong Kong gathered outside the Broadway-City Hall SkyTrain station dressed in black, some wearing face masks to show solidarity with protestors in Hong Kong who have been tear gassed.

Directly opposite, pro-China protestors wore red and carried large Chinese flags.

Between the two groups, a line of police officers tried to keep a path clear for people trying to access public transit.

Jon Hernandez/CBC

The competing rallies are the latest local development in an international story now also playing out on the streets and in the homes of Chinese people living abroad, from Canada to Australia.

For weeks, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents have been filling the streets in protest of a local government they believe has become too friendly with Beijing, and what they see as the Chinese government's attempt to strip the people of Hong Kong of their political autonomy and freedoms.

Protests began months ago after Hong Kong tried to pass a now suspended extradition bill that would have allowed those accused of crimes against mainland China to be transported there for trial.

Threats posted to social media

Alex Cheung organized the pro-Hong Kong protest, saying it is part of a series of protests around the world taking place on the same day.

"We really hope that the world actually knows what's going on," he said.

"It's terrifying. This is very important to Canadians because there are about half a million Canadians in Hong Kong right now."

Cheung said he alerted police after seeing threats toward his rally posted on social media, and was grateful for the increased police presence.

Jon Hernandez/CBC

Adam Chan, 45, said he lived most of his life in Vancouver, with the exception of two years in Hong Kong. He said much of his family remains there and he's grown concerned as protests have escalated.

"I feel enraged, but my emotions are not enough. You have to keep a cool head and look at what's going on. A democratic state is now losing its freedom and the world is watching," he said, adding he hopes Canada will speak out.

"[This] affects anyone that's concerned about human rights around the world."

Tempers flared at the protests, with demonstrators shouting alternating chants, and some getting into one-on-one shouting matches. Police did not report any incidents.

Several demonstrators from the pro-China protest declined to speak to CBC, but Leo You, sporting a red shirt and holding a Chinese flag, said he was there to "[support] my people, my Chinese."

"We love Hong Kong, stop the violence," he said.

One protestor, who declined to give her name, said she felt the suspended extradition bill was fair because it applied to crimes that carried sentences of seven years in prison.

Later in the protest, Chan cupped his hands around his mouth, yelling a question at the pro-Chinese protestors that went unanswered over the fray.

When asked what he yelled, he said "a simple question — do you love freedom?"