In 1994, one in every 130 Hong Kong residents moved to Canada. In that year, 44,223 people - most of them professionals and businesspeople - fled across the Pacific Ocean to escape the uncertainty of the handover to China. At the height of the pre-handover stampede from 1992 to 1997, nearly 300,000 people left. Almost 70 per cent chose Canada as their new home. At the time, pundits made dire predictions for Hong Kong's future with many of its best and brightest living in Vancouver and Toronto. But nobody was thinking about what may be the real consequence of the exodus: what would happen if the prodigal sons and daughters returned? Seven years after the handover, Hong Kong is full of Canadians. Some of Hong Kong's best-known residents have pledged allegiance to the Maple Leaf. Victor Li Tzar-kuoi had his Canadian passport in one hand and C$600 million (HK$3.55 billion) in the other when he attempted a takeover bid of Air Canada last year. His brother, PCCW chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai, is also Canadian. Daisy Ho Chiu-fung, chief operating officer of Shun Tak Holdings, is on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce board of governors. Patrick Fung Yuk-bun, chairman of the Wing Hang Bank, Michael Chan Yue-kwong, chairman of Cafe de Coral, and Commercial Radio host Albert Cheng King-hon: all Canadians. Treasury Secretary Frederick Ma Si-hang was a Canadian until he renounced his citizenship to qualify for his senior government post. Canada estimates 4 per cent of Hongkongers have Canadian citizenship - between 200,000 and 300,000. To cope with the demand for services, the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong - which sprawls over four floors of the Exchange Square Tower in Central - is as big as a full-fledged embassy. Peter Li, a Hong Kong-born sociologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said no detailed studies had been done on how many immigrants to Canada were back in Hong Kong, but best estimates were that one in three returned. The number of Canadians in Hong Kong is a matter of contention between Ottawa and Beijing. Hong Kong's 2001 census put it at only 11,862 - a claim absurd in its inaccuracy given that Canada renews 20,000 passports in Hong Kong annually. Last year, based on the travel documents people used to enter Hong Kong, the immigration department said there were 30,600 Canadians in the city, making them - at least in the eyes of the Hong Kong government - the fourth largest expatriate group. The largest official expatriate communities are Filipinos (142,640) and Indonesians (85,240) - the vast majority of both groups are domestic helpers - followed by Americans (32,340). The discrepancy stems from a debate over dual citizenship. Most Canadians in Hong Kong are ethnic Chinese born in the city, who moved to Canada, became citizens, and have returned. They often travel in and out of Hong Kong using their permanent ID cards rather than their Canadian passports, and in doing so do not show up on immigration statistics. But to Canada, Canadian citizenship lets you call yourself Canadian. You can live there, work there, vote there, and even try to buy the national airline if you have enough money. China sees it differently. Under its Nationality Law, if you are ethnically Chinese and born in China, you are a citizen of the People's Republic. Only renouncing your Chinese citizenship will free you from that bond. Given the loud demand for Hong Kong to be run by patriots and for Chinese to love China, it is no surprise that few turn their backs on the motherland in such a public way. It is far easier to keep a Canadian passport in one pocket and a Hong Kong permanent ID card in the other. For Anthony Burger, Canada's consul-general in Hong Kong, having a growing population of Chinese-Canadians in the city poses a vexing challenge. Canada prefers to talk about its business ties with Hong Kong, but politics is getting hard to avoid as Beijing tightens its grip. Even as Washington and London have taken China to task on controversial Hong Kong political issues such as democratic reform and the Article 23 national security legislation, Ottawa has been comparatively quiet. Mr Burger is uncomfortable with suggestions he should be speaking out more forcefully on behalf of his countrymen. 'I'm quite reticent to say that I am a spokesman for the entire Canadian community,' he said. 'These people aren't ours ... we don't own them. 'I wouldn't presume to represent their views because we are in an ethnically diverse and culturally diverse world and people have multiple loyalties and it is not my place to tell them that their loyalty to Canada has to come first.' But with Beijing's hard line towards Hong Kong, Canadian commentators are pondering how their nation should react. Dearly held Canadian values such as democracy and freedom of speech conflict with China's approach to ruling Hong Kong, and opinion leaders in Canada are starting to notice. 'All this could have a significant impact on Canada and its relationship with the Chinese Tiger. If Canada supports [Hong Kong's] democrats, which it would like to do in principle, it could undermine its relationship with Beijing, adversely affecting Canadian investments in China,' wrote Jack Mintz, chief executive of the C.D. Howe Institute think-tank, in Canadian Business magazine. 'The debate on democracy in Hong Kong will be an interesting challenge to Canada's foreign policy gurus - who no doubt hope to avoid confronting the issue for quite some time.' Even with the rumblings at home, Mr Burger remains cautious about wading into local politics. But he is concerned about Beijing's refusal to acknowledge the status of dual citizens and its insistence Hong Kong affairs are solely an internal matter. 'Many Hong Kong people moved to Canada because they were concerned about their future here. The fact that they obtained Canadian citizenship means something, even if they came back to Hong Kong,' he said. An equally vexing question about the returnee Canadians is what influence they have on Hong Kong. How did living in a nation that defines itself by public health care, ice hockey and not being American change the cream of Hong Kong society? Some would say not at all. Critics in Canada complain that the pre-handover immigration was little more than an exercise in trading something Hong Kong had a lot of - money - for something Canada had a lot of - room for new immigrants. Many question the commitment of the Hong Kong immigrants to their new home, complaining that their only interest in becoming Canadians was to obtain a passport to use as a get-out-of-China-free card. Samuel Chan, chief executive of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver, said many Hong Kong families found it hard to get used to Canada's high taxes - which eat up more than half of most people's income - and missed the volatile economic growth back home. 'Most of the people who went back to Hong Kong are people who have their families or businesses there. Once people saw that not too much changed after 1997, and China was becoming more capitalist, they thought it was okay to go back,' he said. But for many returnees, living in Canada has created deep and lasting impressions. Spencer Lee, founder of the 3,000-member Chinese-Canadian Association, said he did not know many people who saw Canada as just a convenient passport. 'There are a few like that, but the people I know who have lived in Canada all still have close connections there through their families and friends. Canada gave me my education and my start in life and I will never forget that,' he said. Hong Kong may be importing Canada's liberal politics as well. Mr Chan said once people had experienced the benefits of Canadian democracy, they wanted political rights to evolve here. 'The people going back to Hong Kong who have been influenced by Canadian values are taking their ideas back to Hong Kong and teaching the next generation there,' he said. Mr Burger said the Canadians in Hong Kong were overwhelmingly middle-class, well educated professionals - the demographic group that forms an important element of the city's pro-democracy movement. 'If the middle class is more likely to have views on these issues, then the Canadian community would reflect that,' he said. Beijing officials have taken notice of the western influences on Hong Kong. Advocates for human rights and democracy were dismissed as unpatriotic sinners by Cheng Siwei, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. Mr Cheng called democracy activists 'bananas' - Chinese on the outside but with western beliefs within. 'These people who bad-mouth China and Hong Kong are sinners of the Chinese nation,' he said. 'They are just like bananas, yellow outside but white inside.' Given such attitudes, it is not surprising that many returnees have had a difficult time reintegrating. Born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in the heart of Canada's wheat belt, Donna Mah came to Hong Kong 11 years ago. She is representative of a generation of young Chinese who were born in Canada - or emigrated there at a young age - and have since returned. Some came seeking high paying jobs, others came in search of their roots. Ms Mah came to be with her Hong Kong-born fiance. It was hard to become a Chinese wife after living her whole life as a Canadian. Ms Mah's health began to fail. Everything made her ill - the food, the pollution, even the language. 'I had a headache everyday from trying to speak Cantonese. I also got food poisoning all the time, even though I was eating the same thing everyone else was eating and they weren't getting sick.' Ms Mah's Canadian upbringing became a point of friction in her marriage. 'He told me that I will never fit in anywhere because on the outside I look Chinese and on the inside I am white. He said that in Canada, no matter how white I act, I still look Chinese.' Experiences like Ms Mah's combined with the sputtering economy, Beijing's bellicose rants and living in an unfamiliar culture have led returnees like Tung See-hon to go back to Canada. Mr Tung was born in Hong Kong and educated in Canada. He came to Hong Kong to work as an investment banker two years ago. After losing his job and being unemployed for 18 months, he decided to return to Canada this year. 'I always though of Hong Kong as a place I could come back to and get a job. When I was in school, having North American experience was a golden stamp for getting a job in Hong Kong. That has all changed. Now it is all about China,' he said. Mr Tung recently moved to Calgary, Alberta, a booming oil town where he plans to set up his own business. Like others who have split their lives between Hong Kong and Canada, he often wonders about his identity. The Chinese part of his life is easy to recognise in his appearance and language. But the Canadian part is more difficult to pin down. 'In Canada, people accept me for who I am. I guess that is what being Canadian is all about.' Karen Ng moved back to Canada last year. Sipping coffee in a Vancouver Starbucks on a rainy afternoon, Ms Ng said her native Hong Kong no longer seemed like home. Ms Ng's family moved to Canada when she was eight years old and she would not return for 24 years. The city was stunningly different from what she had left behind as a little girl. 'Hong Kong was hugely overwhelming for me. I remember standing on Queen's Road Central and watching the buses rush by and almost nicking the end of my nose,' she said. 'I felt very foreign there.' The legacy of the great Hong Kong exodus to Canada remains an illusive issue to track. The Canadian influence in Hong Kong is deceptively strong today, but it could wane as time passes and the returnees either go back to Canada or begin to lose touch with their experiences in the Great White North. 'Everyone you talk to in Hong Kong now has some sort of link to Canada. There is still a very active connection there but the question I ask myself is, 'Will that be the case 10 years from now?'' asked Mr Burger. 'Will there be a whole generation of Canadian citizens here that know little more [about Canada other than] that their parents spent some time there many, many years ago?'