An organiser of pro-China protests in Vancouver said he was questioned by police over WeChat discussions in which other supporters talked of bringing a gun, machetes, knives and rocks to use against “trash” Hong Kong activists.
Victor Feng confirmed the authenticity of widely circulated screenshots of the WeChat discussion about the weapons, but said the messages last month were only a “joke” made by “hothead idiots”.
He said he participated in the discussion to tell others to stop talking about weapons, in case they were “taken out of context”.
Feng said in a recent interview that he was questioned by police about the WeChat messages at a protest outside a Vancouver subway station on August 17, after he introduced himself to officers.
There were a series of raucous events in Vancouver that weekend, in which opponents of the Hong Kong protest movement waved Chinese flags and sang the Chinese national anthem as they faced off against supporters of the movement.
One Vancouver event, the screening of a video about alleged police brutality in Hong Kong, was cancelled that Saturday night because of the apparent threats of violence, organisers said.
In Montreal, meanwhile, a group of Hong Kong LGBT marchers and supporters were banned from the city’s Pride march the next day after organisers said they received threats from “pro-communists”.
In the WeChat discussions on August 16, several supporters of the pro-China camp described the weapons they planned to bring to the protests that weekend.
One posted a photo of a handgun, adding “if they don’t listen to us”. Another said: “Let’s bring an axe too … [to] cut those trash teenagers.”
Another advised “don’t bring any weapon … just stones or rocks are fine. That way, police can’t do anything even if they catch us.”
Another said they had two machetes and seven “medium-sized” switchblades, telling another not to bother bringing a baseball bat because it would look “too obvious”.
But in the end, there were no reports of violence at the protests.
In addition to the Broadway station protest, the pro-China camp turned out at three other events that weekend – rallying outside the Chinese consulate-general, where pro-Hong Kong protesters were assembled across the road; surrounding a suburban church where people inside were praying for Hong Kong; and protesting in the city centre near where the cancelled video screening had been scheduled.
Feng, 34, who works in finance, denied being the organiser of the events, but said he paid for the flagpoles and Chinese flags waved by protesters, distributed bottled water and spoke to police and the media on the protesters’ behalf.
At the Broadway event, he said he “approached one of the officers and I explained to them … what we’re doing here, and why we’re here”.
“Then one of the officers said, ‘You know what, we have heard about this [the WeChat discussions], are you aware of that?’ And I said: ‘Yeah I was aware. I was in one of the chats. This is all a joke, and I asked people don’t make any jokes. We’re gonna be very peaceful here.’”
He said police seemed to accept the explanation, but “they probably take this very seriously”, and he was sure the officers spoke to other members of the pro-China camp about the messages.
Vancouver Police Department media relations officer Sergeant Aaron Roed said there were no ongoing investigations resulting from the protests.
“VPD officers assisted in keeping the peace between protest groups throughout the city,” Roed said. “We were present at the church because there were large numbers of demonstrators in that area. Fortunately, there we no significant issues.”
Jane Li, a spokeswoman for the group Vancouver Hong Kong Political Activists, which helped promote events in support of the Hong Kong protest movement that weekend, said she had filed a complaint with the police about the messages, as had other activists.
She said she did not consider them harmless or a prank. “They were very threatening,” she said. “When I saw them, I thought, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’. How can you not take it seriously? I can’t take it as a joke.”
The cancellation of the video screening was made in light of the threats, Li’s group said. The activists are holding a fundraiser for arrested Hong Kong protesters’ legal fees on September 21.
Asked whether it had been involved with the pro-China protests or communicated with activists, the office of Chinese Consul-General in Vancouver Tong Xiaoling said: “Chinese embassies and consulates overseas fulfil their duties in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and relevant bilateral agreements. They refrain from doing things against local laws.”
Feng said he would no longer take part in the pro-China counterprotests, which he said were intended to “educate” the Canadian public.
“But apparently it turned into people just shouting at each other across the street. I don’t think that’s going to accomplish anything,” he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- A Bubble Tea Summit brings together pro-Hong Kong and pro-China protesters in Vancouver
- Vancouver’s Hong Kong protesters think they’re being watched. They’re right – but by whom?
- ‘Worst Fast and Furious movie ever’: convoys of Ferrari-driving pro-China patriots rev up protests in Vancouver and Toronto
- Canadian police escort worshippers as ‘bullying’ pro-China protesters surround church holding prayers for Hong Kong
- Montreal Pride expels gay Hong Kong marchers, blaming ‘threats by pro-Communists’ to sabotage parade