China's envoy called before minister multiple times to answer 'police stations' allegations

China’s ambassador to Canada has been summoned multiple times to appear before the minister and answer allegations that his country is operating “so-called police stations” in Canada tasked with cracking down on Chinese dissidents. 

RCMP investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called 'police' stations

An images of a very plain brown building against a blue sky in Markham, Ont. It's said to be a secret Chinese police station.
Safeguard Defenders lists this single-storey commercial building in Markham, Ont. as one of three so-called Chinese "police" stations in Canada. (Idil Mussa/CBC News)

China's ambassador to Canada has been summoned multiple times to appear before the minister and answer allegations that his country is operating "so-called police stations" in Canada tasked with cracking down on Chinese dissidents. 

"We've had several engagements, we've called the ambassador in on multiple occasions and we have conveyed our deep concern," Weldon Epp, the director general for North East Asia at Global Affairs Canada, told the House of Commons Canada-China committee Tuesday.

"The government of Canada has formally insisted that the Chinese government take account for — including the ambassador and his embassy — for any activities within Canada that fall outside of the Vienna Conventions and account for those [and] ensure that they cease and desist," he added. 

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Epp said Global Affairs Canada and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will make decisions and hold further meetings with the envoy that depend on how China responds to the allegations. 

His comments come after the Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders reported earlier this fall that at least 54 "so-called police stations" exist worldwide, including three in the Greater Toronto Area in predominantly Chinese communities.

According to the group, Chinese officials abroad have been pressuring some Chinese citizens to return to China to face fraud and other charges. The Safeguard Defenders report says most of the cases targeted "dissidents or individuals that had fled religious and/or ethnic persecution."

The report says people who refused to return to China have seen their families targeted by the state, including threats to cut off the power and water supplies of family members still living in China. 

The report also said Chinese expats have faced threats that their children and other relatives would be denied access to education unless they return to China. 

RCMP investigating

In Canada, the report says, those stations include a residential home and single-storey commercial building in Markham and a convenience store in Scarborough.

​​​​"In most countries, we believe it's a network of individuals, rather than ... a physical police station where people will be dragged into," said Laura Harth, a campaign director at Safeguard Defenders.

"It's completely illegal under international law. It's a severe violation of territorial sovereignty," she added.

The RCMP told CBC News in a statement that it is currently "investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called 'police' stations."

The RCMP also said it 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."

Speaking in London, Ont. on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would take action to ensure that no Canadian citizen or resident is subjected to foreign interference.

"Our Canadian intelligence services are working very hard every day to ensure the safety of all Canadians," he said. "They are monitoring the situation and they provide information to me regularly on any interference from foreign governments against Canadian communities."

Embassy dismisses allegations

Trudeau met briefly with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia last month and said he raised concerns about "interference activities in Canada."

Under questioning in the House of Commons upon his return to Canada, Trudeau the allegations about so called 'police stations' was one of the interference activities the prime minister raised with the Chinese leader. 

In a statement to CBC in response to questions about these stations, the Chinese embassy said local authorities in Fujian, China, had set up an online service platform to assist Chinese nationals abroad.

"Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many overseas Chinese citizens are not able to return to China in time for their Chinese driver's licence renewal and other services," read the statement.

"For services such as driver's licence renewal, it is necessary to have eyesight, hearing and physical examination. The main purpose of the service station abroad is to provide free assistance to overseas Chinese citizens in this regard."

The embassy said the overseas service stations are staffed by volunteers who are "not Chinese police officers" and are "not involved in any criminal investigation or relevant activity."


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

With files from the CBC's Idil Mussa