The Government of Canada is advising citizens to exercise a “high degree of caution” when travelling to Hong Kong in the wake of mass demonstrations in the city, according to an advisory issued Thursday.
“The decision to travel is your choice,” reads the Canadian advisory, which warns citizens to be cautious about protests in Hong Kong that can become violent and take place “with little or no notice.”
“Acts of violence occur, especially at night. Some have resulted in serious injuries,” it continues. It adds that local authorities have recently used tear gas for crowd control measures. “There have also been random attacks on demonstrators by their opponents.”
Pickpocketing in public areas and spiked food or drinks are also cause for caution when travelling to Hong Kong, the Canadian government advised.
The advisory comes following weeks of large-scale protests and rallies as tensions continue to escalate about a proposed Hong Kong extradition bill.
Under the proposed bill, the Chinese government would be able to ask Hong Kong to hand over anyone said to have committed a crime who sets foot in the city, be it a foreign tourist or city resident. The bill has since been withdrawn, according to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
In late July, a group of Vancouver-based students issued pleas to the Canadian government about issuing an advisory to “ensure all the Canadian citizens are safe, (and) to warn them about what’s happening in Hong Kong right now.”
An estimated 300,000 Canadian citizens live in Hong Kong, while 200,000 immigrants from Hong Kong live in Canada, according to a 2016 Census.
The Hong Kong government said Thursday that the city remained a welcoming place for visitors and had a long tradition of peaceful protests.
“However, in recent weeks, some violent protesters have blocked roadways, vandalized property and confronted police after the end of some processions,” the government said in a written statement. “The impact of these illegal confrontations is confined to a limited area near the procession routes, and is not widespread.”
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On Wednesday, the top Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong affairs said that the city was experiencing its worst crisis since the former British colony returned to China in 1997.
The official, Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said the turmoil in Hong Kong “has been going on for 60 days straight, getting bigger and bigger,” and added that violence had been intensifying.
“An advisory like this doesn’t just tell people who commonly travel to Hong Kong about being safe and taking safety measures; it also lets them become aware of the extent of the crisis,” said Gloria Fung, president of the Canada-Hong Kong Link, a group that has arranged rallies across Canada in support of the preservation of democratic rights in Hong Kong, in an interview.
“But the Canadian government needs to go another step further in saying what’s happening in Hong Kong is not okay. This is a Canadian issue,” Fung added. “So many of us live there and so many Hong Kong natives live here.”
Demonstrations have also began to take place across Canada in support of on-the-ground protesters in Hong Kong since early June.
A rally and march in downtown Toronto over the August long weekend saw more than 600 people show up, with some dressed in all black or holding symbolic yellow umbrellas.
Anyone who requires consular assistance when travelling to Hong Kong, may contact the local consulate at +85-2-3719-4700 or email@example.com.
With files from the StarVancouver’s Jenny Pang and the New York Times
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Temur Durrani is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @temurdur