Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 08:52
Anti-discrimination laws may cover mainlanders
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

The Equal Opportunities Commission is seeking public views on expanding Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination laws so they could cover abuse against mainland visitors.

Commission Chairman York Chow Yat-ngok has said a re-evaluation of the city’s four anti-discrimination laws could address recent hostility towards mainland tourists.

On Monday, Chow elaborated on how proposed changes might be achieved through the addition of new social classes into racial groups — defined under the Race Discrimination Ordinance.

The ordinance now defines a “racial group” as any group of people defined by reference to an identifiable “national origin”. It exempts all action based merely upon nationality, citizenship or length of residence in Hong Kong.

Chow said the watchdog was now considering bringing in categories such as “geographical origin of an individual”, “immigration status” or “year of entry into Hong Kong” under the umbrella of racial groups.

York said the proposed changes could put an end to unreasonable behavior and help educate the public. He said the commission had already received some inquiries relating to prejudice against mainland people.

But legal experts said the laws will have to undergo major changes to include tourists from the mainland — as most situations under the law concerned the rights of local residents.

Sixteen clauses in the law, for example, upheld equality in employment, said Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a law expert at the University of Hong Kong.

Cheung said that while hate speech against mainlanders was objectionable, education was the best solution. “If a person swears at other people for no reason, it is shameful. But we don’t have to outlaw this behavior,” he said.

Former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping was in charge of the early drafting of the law before he left office in 2007. Ho said on Monday changing this legislation would be an overreaction to extreme behavior by a small minority in Hong Kong.

The proposed changes to the law will not only try to address abuses against tourists. Chow’s suggestion of “year of entry” indicates the commission may also be planning to outlaw bias against new immigrants.

Advocacy groups have long asked for mainland immigrants to be included within the scope of the anti-discrimination laws. But the government has ruled them out in the legislative process because new arrivals are classified as a social group.

The public consultation on the anti-discrimination laws is expected to commence later this year.