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Federal officials confirmed this week that it would be “entirely illegal” for Beijing to open police stations on Canadian soil, but that it would nevertheless fit within a pattern of growing Chinese interference in Canadian affairs.
“The activity that’s being alleged (the police stations) would be entirely illegal, totally inappropriate and would be the subject of very serious representations,” Weldon Epp, a China lead with Global Affairs Canada, told a Tuesday meeting of the House of Commons committee on relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China.
The hearing was dominated by recent reports that Chinese law enforcement had opened three “service stations” in the Greater Toronto Area.
Last month, a report by the human rights group Safeguard Defenders detailed the existence of more than 50 “service stations” operated around the world by Chinese security services.
Three of them were in Canada, in Toronto neighbourhoods heavily populated by Chinese-Canadians.
The three addresses, provided to the National Post by Safeguard Defenders, show a private home in Markham, a convenience store in Scarborough and an address also listed as the headquarters of the Canada Toronto Fuqing Business Association.
The official word from China is that the stations are merely places for expats to conveniently renew IDs or drivers’ licences.
When one such station was discovered in Dublin, Ireland, the Chinese embassy’s official explanation to The Irish Times was “the pandemic made international travels not easy and quite a few Chinese nationals found their Chinese ID cards and/or driver licences expired or about to expire, and yet they could not get the ID renewed back in China in time.”
But according to Safeguard Defenders, the stations are clandestine hubs in the Chinese program of “involuntary return” — a system by which China compels its expats to return home for punishment in instances where they’re deemed to have violated Chinese law while abroad.
In just the last year, China itself has boasted that 230,000 of their nationals have been “persuaded to return” on various charges.
Epp told the committee that Canada has not filed a diplomatic complaint with Beijing over the stations pending the results of an RCMP investigation to confirm the allegations within the Safeguard Defenders report.
But he did tell the committee that there is “growing evidence of foreign interference” in Canada by China.
“Evidence suggests that the largest source of foreign interference in Canada by state actors is coming from (People’s Republic of China) sources,” said Epp, citing the latest report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
He also said that the previous two years have brought a distinctive chill to his usual contacts with People’s Republic of China critics or dissident groups based in Canada.
“It’s really only in the last couple of years that the balance of conversation has shifted to them talking about how intimidated they feel within Canada, and the growing risk they feel for raising concerns, even within Canada,” he said.
Questions regarding the alleged police stations dominated the two-hour hearing, with Conservative, Liberal and NDP representatives all pressing Global Affairs on what risk the stations may pose to Chinese-Canadian constituents.
“I don’t think any of us are, to be honest, surprised,” said Heather McPherson, the NDP’s Foreign Affairs Critic. “We’ve heard for a long time about people intimidated and threatened in this country.”
The hearing also heard from Aileen Calverley, head of the group Hong Kong Watch, who dismissed the notion of the locations as “service stations,” since Chinese expats could just as easily seek such services at a consulate or embassy.
“With the police stations, they can intimidate people like us,” she said. “I’ve been living in Canada for many decades, now I feel frightened.”
It’s not unprecedented that Canada would have the occasional foreign police officer posted within our borders. The New York City Police Department, for one, has operated an intelligence post in Toronto ever since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But these postings are all done with Canada’s official sanction and often under the auspices of bilateral treaties, neither of which apply in the case of the Chinese “service stations.”
“There is space for legitimate police liaison state to state, but the allegations reported in the press would fall well outside of that,” said Epp.
The committee also touched on increasingly aggressive Chinese behaviour with regards to Taiwan, including several recent incidents in which Chinese warplanes buzzed Royal Canadian Navy vessels transiting the Taiwan strait.
Paul Thoppil, the assistant deputy minister for Global Affairs, chalked it up to Beijing’s embrace of “the view that international rules and norms don’t apply to ‘great’ powers in their spheres of influence.”
Why Beijing is allegedly opening police stations on Canadian soil
Canadian distrust of China hits a new low
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