They think they’re being watched. And they’re right. The question is: who’s doing the watching? I’m at a rally in support of the Hong Kong protest movement outside Vancouver’s Public Library on Saturday afternoon. So far I’ve spoken to three protesters who ask that I not publish their names for fear of retribution from Chinese authorities. People who do “not belong” are filming the protesters, one says later. It all seems a little paranoid. This is Canada, after all. Then I spy a man hanging back behind the police tape, outside the actual protest zone, where a handful of Vancouver Police Department officers have gathered. He’s got the burly look of a Chinese Fred Flintstone and there’s the curly tail of a small headphone hanging out of one ear. He’s scanning the protesters with a raised smartphone but it doesn’t look like he belongs with the local police, who talk among themselves with their backs turned. Convoys of Ferrari-driving pro-China patriots rev up Canada protests I walk towards him, but he shoos me off. A moment later, as I chat with a reporter from a local paper, I spot the man again. We make eye contact, but as I try to point him out to my companion, the man puts down his phone and saunters away. He gives me a broad grin and salutes me with his middle finger before vanishing around the corner. Fears of state and freelance surveillance Fears of surveillance – both state and freelance – are endemic among those in Vancouver who support the Hong Kong protests. Media at the rally on Saturday were told not to show demonstrators’ uncovered faces – a futile request, considering that they were engaged in political behaviour, in a public place. But the protesters’ fears that they are being closely watched are far from groundless. At a protest on June 9 outside the Chinese Consulate-General in Vancouver, a surveillance camera mounted over the pavement swivelled back and forth as it scanned the crowd below. In those early days, few if any Vancouver protesters wore masks. (At the library on Saturday, they were quite common.) I said, ‘Mom, we’re in Canada. In Canada we have a free press, a fair judiciary, and we have democracy. If they can silence us here, then they’ve won’ A Vancouver protest participant On August 18, a Vancouver church that was hosting “prayers for Hong Kong” was surrounded by Chinese-flag-waving counterprotesters. As the worshippers left the Tenth Church, escorted by police, they were videoed by the flag-wavers with their phones, for purposes unknown. Both sides in Vancouver have shared photos of each other on social media. But the pro-protest camp fears more than just being doxxed. They fear being flagged by the Chinese state. On the way to Saturday’s protest, I bump into former Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip, as he feeds a parking meter. He has lived in Vancouver for two years. “The Chinese government has organised the opposition [in Vancouver] and groups that are opposing the democratic groups all around the world,” he says, explaining the fears. He says he understands why some protesters in Vancouver worry about being identified, but he doesn’t mind this himself. With his bald head and the physique of a bodybuilder, he tends to stand out in a crowd anyway. “They won’t come to confront us the way they did in Hong Kong. The police are different here,” he says. Pro-China protesters surround Vancouver church hosting Hong Kong prayers At the protest, attended by several hundred people, I meet another Hong Kong immigrant, wearing Jackie O sunglasses and a big hat pulled low. She’s carrying an elaborate placard, decorated on one side with Cosette from Les Miserables , on the other with Winnie the Pooh, a mocking reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Will she tell me her name? No. Her parents are too worried. Video from today’s Vancouver protest against the Hong Kong/PRC extradition law shows one of the surveillance cameras at the Chinese consular mansion in action. One can only wonder: who is watching and how are the images stored and used? #cdnpoli #bcpoli #vanpoli #vanRE #cdnfoi pic.twitter.com/CfJBOb44xF — theBreaker.news (@theBreakerNews) June 9, 2019 “When they found out I was coming down to the rally to support Hong Kong, because I was born in Hong Kong, they said ‘just make sure you can’t be identified’,” she says, sounding a little embarrassed. “I said, ‘Mom, we’re in Canada. In Canada we have a free press, a fair judiciary, and we have democracy. If they can silence us here, then they’ve won’,” she says. She games out her parents’ point of view. “They fear the surveillance state, which is becoming globalised. Maybe they fear for my ability to travel … [but] I’m so proud to be a Canadian.” She tells me her first name but asks me not to publish it. She says she wants to tell me her full name, but “you know what Chinese parents are like”. I give her my name card and leave her with her parental dilemma. I approach a couple whose two small children are waving Canadian flags. The apparent father won’t give me his name; he fears the South China Morning Post is linked to the Chinese government, citing mainland e-commerce giant Alibaba’s ownership of the Post. Nearby, a towering protester wearing a hard hat, a surgical mask and a pair of glasses with fake bloodied gauze over the right eye, cheerfully introduces himself, enveloping my handshake with a palm like a baseball mitt. We’ve encountered each other before, and he poses for a photo, but he doesn’t want his name published. “Nothing to identify me,” he says. Not everyone cares. Jayers Ko is a veteran of the Hong Kong protest movement, having attended rallies in the SAR since June. But she’s been visiting a relative in Vancouver for the past month. She isn’t worried about showing her face in Canada. [The counterprotesters] are reasonable [and] they speak with a strong voice for peace, rationality and justice Chinese Consul-General in Vancouver Tong Xiaoling “I’m here to encourage my friends back home who are fighting on the front lines for our freedom … to know there are people out here who are with us, it means a lot. It’s motivating us. I wish I was back home, but I’m here right now, so this is what I can do.” If there were opponents of the protesters present on Saturday, they were keeping a low profile, in contrast to previous raucous encounters between the two camps. Burnaby businessman Victor Feng has been involved in a series of counterprotests in Vancouver against the Hong Kong movement, including a noisy afternoon face-off on August 17 outside a busy commuter train station, rallies outside the consulate the next day, and the subsequent church protest. He says he is not an organiser of the counterprotests. But the camp had collectively decided not to attend Saturday’s library rally in opposition because previous interactions with Vancouver police showed that the officers were intent on keeping the two sides separated. That, he says, defeated the purpose of speaking directly to the Hong Kong camp to “educate them”. “From our experience they [the police] are not giving us a chance to have a conversation … last time [at the train station] it just turned into a shouting match.” It was understandable the Vancouver police didn’t want trouble, he says, adding that “the other side was very aggressive”. Montreal Pride expels gay Hong Kong marchers, after ‘pro-Communist threats’ The Chinese Consulate-General in Vancouver did not immediately respond to questions about whether it was monitoring Hong Kong protesters, or was in contact with the counterprotesters. But it has been publicly supportive of the efforts of Feng’s camp. On August 23, Consul-General Tong Xiaoling published a statement in Ming Pao newspaper, praising counterprotesters in British Columbia who targeted the “sin of Hong Kong independence”. “They are reasonable [and] they speak with a strong voice for peace, rationality and justice,” she wrote. ‘In Canada, as a Canadian, there is no reason to hide my name’ On Sunday, just after midnight, I receive an email. “I was holding the Les Mis sign,” it begins. “Thank you for interviewing me today at the rally. I don't mind being identified. My name is Susan Chung.” Her sign-off tells me where she works, and what she does for a living, both of which are easily verifiable. I ask Chung what changed her mind. She’s clearly still grappling with her choice. “[My] parents have a good reason to tell me to be wary for my identity, and by extension, theirs. There were people at that rally who appeared to not belong and they were intrusively taking everyone's picture. I respect my parents' desire for privacy and safety if they travel to HK,” she says. “By bringing me to Canada, they sacrificed so much: I can see it so clearly now that I have my own kids … I imagine uprooting to an entirely different world where my children transform into foreigners, learning to speak a different language and picking up different cultural values. “What would I do that for? They did it because Canada has her version of ‘Basic Law’. And I will never take that for granted. So, in a way, I showed up at the rally for them. “In Canada, as a Canadian, there is no reason to hide my name.” The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70 .