Conservative MP accuses minister of taking 'no meaningful action' on Chinese 'police stations'
MPs probing foreign interference did not question CSIS chief about foreign interference
Conservative MP Michael Cooper and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino faced off Thursday over the government's response to so-called Chinese police stations operating on Canadian soil.
But MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee did not ask the head of Canada's spy agency a single question about Beijing's meddling in Canadian affairs — despite Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault appearing as a witness during an hour-long committee hearing on Parliament Hill Thursday.
In a testy exchange, Cooper pressed Mendicino to explain why Canada hasn't arrested any officials or expelled any diplomats tied to the handful of police stations China is believed to have operated in Canada.
Human rights groups have accused the Chinese government of using the stations to threaten and monitor members of the diaspora abroad.
"Not a single Beijing diplomat expelled. Why not, minister?" asked Cooper. "You've taken no meaningful action."
Mendicino told MPs repeatedly the stations are being dealt with.
"The RCMP have taken decisive action to shut down the so-called police stations," he said.
RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme told MPs last month that the police service believes the stations have ceased operating and continues to investigate.
Cooper's questions come a week after U.S. authorities announced they had shut down what they referred to as a Chinese police station in lower Manhattan and charged two American citizens.
These are believed to be the first charges laid anywhere in the world against people suspected of running extra-territorial Chinese police stations.
"This is a government that is very weak on Beijing," Cooper put to Mendicino.
"I couldn't disagree more," the minister responded.
After the committee meeting, Mendicino told reporters decisions to expel diplomats are made on a "principle basis."
"I'll work closely with [Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly] and indeed all of the government when it comes to combating against foreign interference, including even the option of sanctioning foreign officials," he said.
Mendicino added that police make decisions to lay charges independent of government.
"There are many provisions under the Criminal Code which may apply, depending on the facts on the ground," he said.
The House committee has been looking into reports that China interfered in Canadian elections.
NDP MP Rachel Blaney asked Mendicino for an update on the government's proposed plan to launch a foreign agent registry.
The way it works in other countries is that people who act on behalf of a foreign state to advance its goals have to disclose their ties to the government employing them.
The recent criminal charges laid in the U.S. were against two American citizens who allegedly failed to register their work on behalf of the People's Republic of China.
The minister would only say the government hopes to bring in legislation soon after a consultation period ends on May 9.
"I've heard passionately from people who are worried about even participating in these conversations because they're worried about being targeted. So we want to absorb all of that," Mendicino told reporters.
"We want to use that feedback to inform the creation of this registry. And then yes, move quickly to create a tool that will recognise those experiences, but create a tool that would be consistent with the law and the [Charter of Rights]."
With files from Alex Panetta