An Alberta company has been importing products made at a Chinese prison camp, according to a report by the Washington, D.C.-based Laogai Research Foundation.
Canada bans the importation of any goods made by prison labour, but the foundation, which raises public awareness about the Laogai — China's extensive system of forced-labour prison camps — indicates prison-made goods are turning up in Canada.
"Inland Screw Piling imported products from Xinxiang Zhongke Mining Equipment Company. The address for the Chinese enterprise is the same address as the Chinese prison camp," said Michael Mignano, research associate at Laogai Research Foundation.
Calgary-based Inland Screw Piling Ltd. received at least two shipments of equipment used in foundation work from the Chinese prison in Hunan province worth roughly $300,000, the report indicated. The order was signed by Harry Knelsen, the company's president, the report indicated.
"The reason this particular case struck us so much is because just by digging just a little bit about this company we were receiving lots of information that it was indeed a prison," Mignano said.
A Google search of the Chinese company's name turned up a website whose first page indicates that it is a prison. A search of another site showed that there are 6,000 prison workers, police and armed guards at Xinxiang Zhongke.
Knelsen told CBC News that he was shocked his supplier was a Chinese prison and that he would never have bought the goods had he known.
When asked about the case, Canada Border Service Agency would only say that when it becomes "aware of items of interest, we will target these goods."
Human rights lawyer David Matas said it can be very difficult to spot what's made in a prison and what's not.
"You never know for sure that that's exactly the product that the victim was making and so I think there has to be a lot more effort than there has been to pierce through that disguise," he said.
This was the first case the Laogai Research Foundation has documented of Chinese prison-made goods showing up in Canada, but the report claims there are likely "countless" others.