- by Nadine Joseph
- BBC News, Toronto
The Canadian Federal Police is investigating reports of undeclared Chinese “police service stations” in the province of Quebec.
RCMP said they are looking into two Montreal-area sites believed to be operating on behalf of Beijing.
Human rights groups have accused China of using the stations to threaten and monitor Chinese citizens abroad.
China has denied running the stations, calling them “service centers” for its citizens overseas.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they are an issue his government is “very concerned” about.
“We are in the process of making sure the RCMP is tracking this and our intelligence system is taking it seriously,” he said.
At least 100 stations are believed to operate worldwide in 53 countries including the UK and US, according to Spain-based NGO Safeguard Defenders, which monitors disappearances in China.
In a report last year, the non-profit said the stations are part of an effort by the Chinese regime to “harass, threaten, intimidate and coerce people to return to China for persecution”.
It said the Chinese Public Security Bureau has set up “overseas police service stations” across the continent, including two in London and one in Glasgow. In North America, it got stations in Toronto, Vancouver and New York.
Last November the RCMP confirmed they were investigating reports of such service stations operating in the Greater Toronto Area.
On Thursday, the federal force asked Chinese Canadians to come forward at what police called “alleged Chinese police stations”.
“These activities and any other form of intimidation, harassment or targeting of migrant communities or individuals in Canada will not be tolerated,” RCMP Sergeant Charles Poirier said Thursday.
Federal police in the US have previously expressed concern over similar reports of such stations operating in the country.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told a US Senate hearing in November that China’s attempt to establish a police presence on US soil “violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation procedures”.
Safeguard Defenders reports that an alleged Chinese police station has been set up on Broadway in New York City.
Chinese embassies in the US and Canada have said the locations opened during the pandemic to assist citizens abroad with driver’s license renewals and similar matters are “overseas service stations”.
But Jing-Ji Chen, a researcher at Safeguard Defenders, told the BBC he was skeptical of China’s explanation.
“If you really want to support your citizens abroad, you can use official channels, you don’t have to do it secretly,” he said.
The RCMP investigation comes amid allegations that China attempted to interfere in Canada’s last two federal elections, reports that have strained relations between the two countries.
With additional reporting from Jessica Murphy