The Canadian government has summoned China’s ambassador to explain reports of Chinese-run police stations operating illicitly in Canada, and is warning of further steps if Beijing does not adequately address Ottawa’s concerns about foreign interference, MPs have been told.
Weldon Epp, a senior official from the federal Department of Global Affairs, told MPs Tuesday night that Canada has formally raised objections in response to allegations that China is operating secret overseas police stations in more than 50 locations around the world. According to research by Safeguard Defenders, a Spain-based human rights group, the outposts are engaged in covert and illegal policing operations, including efforts to force Chinese people living overseas to return home. The group says there are three stations in Toronto.
“We’ve had several engagements. We’ve called the ambassador in on multiple occasions, and we have conveyed our deep concern,” Mr. Epp, the director general for North East Asia at Global Affairs, told Parliament’s Canada-China committee on Tuesday evening.
Mr. Epp was responding to a question from Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho on whether Ottawa had met with the Chinese ambassador about the police stations. He added that Canada has warned China to stop any activities in Canada that run afoul of Beijing’s international obligations.
“The government of Canada has formally insisted that the Chinese government take account for … any activities within Canada that fall outside of the Vienna Conventions, and account for those and ensure that they cease and desist,” he said.
The RCMP are investigating the matter, as are governments in 13 other countries, according to Safeguard Defenders, which is keeping track of the probes.
Mr. Epp also said Canada is prepared to take further steps if responses from Beijing are not satisfactory. “We continue to hold open the possibility of following up on those meetings with further decisions for how we take that forward, depending on how they respond,” he told MPs.
The Chinese embassy in Canada has denied Beijing has police stations on Canadian soil. But it said last month that governments in China have set up “service stations” in Canada to help Chinese citizens process paperwork and obtain Chinese driver’s licenses.
Under the international Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, such consular and administrative services are supposed to be conducted by embassies and consulates.
And under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats in foreign countries are supposed to perform only the work for which they are accredited. And they have “a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the countries where they are posted.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the ambassador being summoned, a measure typically used to express displeasure with a foreign government. The embassy also did not respond to a question about whether any Chinese diplomats had been expelled.
In October, the embassy told The Globe and Mail its overseas service stations are staffed by volunteers, not Chinese police officers. “Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many overseas Chinese citizens are not able to return to China in time for their Chinese driver’s license renewal and other services,” the embassy said in a statement.
Ms. Dancho, who sits on the Canada-China committee, told The Globe she is pleased to see Global Affairs is taking the matter seriously. She added that the government should expel any Chinese diplomats involved in running police stations in Canada.
At the Canada-China committee, she asked Mr. Epp if Canada is reviewing the credentials of any Chinese diplomats believed to be involved with the alleged police stations.
Mr. Epp replied that this was “an excellent question.” But he demurred. “We are not at liberty in an open context to discuss, you know, our ability to work with partners from across town to acquire that kind of knowledge,” he said.
Ms. Dancho also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rebuke China publicly for what she called “a shocking affront to our sovereignty.”
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, the opposition parties pressed the Prime Minister to say whether he had been briefed on the extent of Chinese meddling in Canadian elections and domestic politics.
Canadian Security and Intelligence Service documents, which were provided to a Commons committee studying the matter, show Mr. Trudeau was briefed on foreign interference in January, 2020, January, 2021, and February, 2021.
In a briefing document dated Feb. 9, 2021, CSIS director David Vigneault warned that foreign interference “poses a significant threat to the integrity of our political system and democratic institutions.”
A CSIS briefing document dated Jan. 21, 2021 contained a sentence that appeared to introduce a list of “which politicians or riding associations are being targeted by FI,” or foreign intelligence. No ridings’ or politicians’ names were visible in the redacted copy provided to MPs on the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee.
Mr. Trudeau told the House on Wednesday that “Canada and its allies are regularly targeted by foreign states, such as China, including during elections.”
But he said he has never been told by security agencies or law enforcement of Chinese funding of federal candidates.
“In all the briefings I have received, there has never been information around candidates receiving money from China in the 2019 election or in the 2021 election,” Mr. Trudeau said.