A member of a House of Commons committee slammed an executive vice-president of a B.C. Crown corporation May 8 for starting his testimony with a First Nations land acknowledgment before ducking questions about investments in a company that spies on ethnic minorities in China.
Daniel Garant, the global head of public markets for B.C. Investment Management Corporation (BCI), acknowledged the public sector pension fund’s headquarters in the traditional territory of the Lekwungen people when he appeared by web conference before the committee on Canada-China relations.
Garnett Genuis (Conservative, Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan) called Garant’s testimony “discordant,” because of the BCI investment in Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd. In its March 2022 inventory, BCI held $49.35 million worth of Hikvision shares.
“Complete disregard that your investments show for the dignity and rights of the Indigenous peoples of East Turkestan,” Genuis said.
“Hikvision is directly complicit in the persecution and genocide of Uyghurs. Hikvision actually has developed ethnic facial recognition technology, that is cameras that identify Uyghurs and marks them out for a particular persecution.”
Genuis, a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, asked Garant how he felt about the investment decision, to which he answered: “We do invest both actively and passively. So I cannot speak specifically about this company.”
That sparked a lively response from Genuis. “I’m sorry, you can’t speak specifically about the company? Because that was my question, you must have expected it, coming before the special committee on Canada-China relations of Canada’s parliament.”
Genuis then asked Garant if he would be prepared to divest from Hikvision. Garant said the Hikvision shares were part of an index and BCIMC is “engaging with index providers to improve what they put in the index.”
Steve McLennan, total fund management leader for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, testified about pausing direct investments in China over heightened risk. He cited declining Canada and U.S. relations with China, regulatory changes by the Chinese government and shifting economic trends due to the pandemic.
“As risk increases, we need to re-evaluate how much exposure we wanted to have in China, from a top-down perspective, and that really led to the decision to pause that particular set of activities,” McLennan said.
Rob Oliphant (Liberal, Don Valley West) asked Garant if he agreed with McLennan’s analysis and whether BCI considered a similar pause.
“We actually have made the same decisions at BCI,” Garant replied.
BCI manages $250 billion worth of investments for 2.5 million B.C. workers and 715,000 pension plan beneficiaries. Garant said BCI has a team of 16 environmental, social and governance experts to screen investments.
“In our due diligence, we simply do not invest until and unless a complete ESG and risk review is done,” Garant said. “There are no exceptions.”
In addition to Hikvision, the 2022 BCI inventory also disclosed investments in China Merchants Bank Co. Ltd. ($106.67 million in shares), China Mobile ($86.12 million) and China Construction Bank Corp. ($72.61 million).
Hong Kong Watch’s June 2021 report on Canadian pension fund investments in China singled out BCI for investing in Hikvision, calling it an example of “bankrolling the oppression” in Uyghur prison camps in Xinjiang.
In February 2021, by a vote of 266-0, the House of Commons declared the Chinese government was committing genocide against Uyghurs.
Hong Kong Watch also drew attention to BCI investments in China Communication Construction Group Company, CNOOC Ltd. (China National Offshore Oil Corp.), China Railway Construction Corp., China State Construction Group and China Telecommunications Corp.
In March of 2022, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, BCI said it was actively working to sell the remaining $107 million of Russian securities under its management.
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