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Canadians in China on edge as diplomatic tensions rise

Last Updated Jan 15, 2019 at 6:44 am PDT


A Victoria man living in China says there's no doubt other Canadians there are nervous as diplomatic tensions rise

Canada has issued an updated travel advisory for anyone heading to China after a Canadian was handed the death sentence

HONG KONG (NEWS 1130) – Around 300,000 Canadians call China home and many of them are, understandably, a little on edge.

“There’s no doubt Canadians are nervous in China right now. When China has a problem with citizens or with a government of a certain country, it shows that it’s unhappy and it’s not scared to show that,” says Cam MacMurchy, who is originally from Victoria.

Ottawa issued an updated travel advisory on Monday for anyone heading there after a Canadian had an initial 15-year-sentence for drug smuggling overturned and is now facing the death penalty.

And it’s not just the feeling of the country’s communist government.

“Right now, people in China are angry with Canada for the arrest of (Huawei executive) Meng Wanzho and they’re making sure that they’re heard. And from a government perspective, yes, Canadians are nervous in China now. They’re nervous when they cross over the border to go into China,” says MacMurchy.

“The situation in China for foreigners, generally, is getting worse. There is a lot more surveillance now, there is a lot more checking, there’s a lot more visible security on the streets. The situation has changed and I think a lot of people would say that it has regressed.”

Those with more established roots in the country have more to fear.

“Those that have businesses in China in particular are quite nervous because if anyone has any papers that are not in order, or any visa, or something like that, there’s a concern that China will use this time in particular, as a reason to crack down,” says MacMurchy, a former NEWS 1130 reporter who now works in the tech sector.

So, he says having any and all paperwork or travel documents in perfect order is an absolute necessity.

He says travellers can often be unaware of the arbitrary nature of the country’s justice system.

“China does enforce the law very arbitrarily,” says MacMurchy.

“It often will let people continue without the necessary papers or maybe not being entirely lawful. It’s not really a problem if it’s not causing any trouble. But China does keep these things in their back pocket for when there might be a case to enforce the laws.”

It would seem that the present could be one of those times says MacMurchy, adding many from First World countries don’t realize the limitations that can be put in place until they’ve experienced them first-hand.

“There’s not an independent legal system in China, it’s run directly by the Communist Party. So there’s not a lot of transparency into the system. And I think sometimes Canadians, when they’re travelling, or Americans, or people from Europe or other democracies, sometimes they think they know this but it’s stunning when it actually happens, that you don’t have a right to a lawyer. You don’t have any similar human rights in that fashion and so it’s quite scary for people to get caught up in that.”

Despite the situation, MacMurchy still encourages people to visit but again cautions them to ensure all paperwork is in order before arriving.