Chinese 'police stations' in Canada under investigation

Canadian federal police said Thursday they are investigating reports that China has set up illegal police stations in the North American nation and harassed Chinese expatriates.

Several local media, citing Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders, reported this week that the police posts in a residential home, a single-storey commercial building and a convenience store in the Toronto area are among 54 worldwide.

China, however, denied accusations of illegal activity, saying the locations simply offer services -- such as driver's license renewals -- to Chinese nationals abroad.

In an email to AFP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it was "investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called 'police' stations."

"The RCMP takes threats to the security of individuals living in Canada very seriously and is aware that foreign states may seek to intimidate or harm communities or individuals within Canada," it added.

The Netherlands has launched a similar probe.

According to Safeguard Defenders, the police stations have been used by Chinese police to carry out policing operations on foreign soil, and pressure Chinese nationals to return to China to face criminal charges.

In a September report, the NGO said the stations "serve a far more sinister and wholly illegal purpose" than Beijing has acknowledged, including tracking and pursuing targets.

It said a total 230,000 Chinese nationals were returned to China, mostly from countries in Asia, through these methods, which included "threats and harassment to family members back home or directly to the target abroad," between April 2021 and July 2022.

A recently unsealed indictment in the United States in a case of foreign interference against seven Chinese nationals described an example of a person accused of embezzlement and living in Canada who was in 2018 pressed into returning to China, and eventually went "despite initially not wanting to go back."

The Chinese government coordinated some of the US operation from Toronto, it is alleged in the court documents.

Canada's public broadcaster, meanwhile, said a journalist and rights activist who moved to Canada from China in 1989 claimed to have been repeatedly targeted by Chinese officials online.

"Now the Chinese police station (is) here, just a few kilometres from me, so I am asking myself, where else I can escape to," the activist, Sheng Xue, told CBC.

China's foreign ministry said the reports were "completely false." Spokeswoman Mao Ning added that its public security agencies "strictly abide by international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries."

China's embassy in Ottawa said these offices are staffed by "local volunteers, and not Chinese police officers," who assist with eye exams for their driver's license renewal, for example.

"They are not involved in any criminal investigation or relevant activity," it said in a statement.

amc/mlm