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The former office of the America ChangLe Association, described by U.S. authorities as a Chinese secret police station masquerading as a social gathering place for people from China's Fujian province, in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York City, on April 17.BING GUAN/Reuters

One of two men arrested for allegedly operating a secret police station for China in Manhattan had photographic evidence on his phone of the opening of a similar covert station in Canada, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says.

Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, were arrested Monday on charges of conspiring to act as agents of China’s government without informing U.S. authorities, and obstruction of justice.

Last year, Spain-based human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders exposed a network of illegal police stations run for Chinese authorities in Canada, the U.S. and around the world. It initially identified more than 50 of them, but later expanded the estimate to more than 100 globally.

A document filed in a Brooklyn federal court this month said Mr. Lu’s smartphone contained a photograph of ceremonies to commemorate the opening of Chinese overseas police stations in five countries, including Canada. Among the people depicted in a collection of other photos on the phone were “association presidents from Spain, France, Canada and the Netherlands,” an affidavit in support of Monday’s arrest warrants said.

In Canada, it’s not clear whether the RCMP have been making headway on the matter. In a December, 2022 report, Safeguard Defenders identified what it believed were four illegal Chinese police stations in Canada.

On March 2, Michael Duheme, who was then the RCMP’s deputy commissioner of federal policing, told the Commons procedure and house affairs committee that no charges had been laid in connection with the police stations. He is now interim RCMP commissioner.

He told MPs that Mounties nevertheless parked police vehicles in front of the four suspected illegal police stations to show their presence.

“We were present in uniform with marked vehicles, to demonstrate to the community that we’re taking this seriously, and we’ve had a positive impact through the actions we have taken,” he told the committee.

Later, on March 9, the RCMP said it was investigating two more suspected illegal Chinese police stations in the Greater Montreal Area.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the RCMP’s national headquarters in Ottawa said the force was unable to say immediately whether it is still investigating the police stations.

U.S. law enforcement said the two men arrested in New York are among the leaders of a non-profit organization based in lower Manhattan that lists its charitable mission as providing a “social gathering place for Fujianese people” – immigrants from China’s Fujian province.

If convicted of conspiring to act as agents of the People’s Republic of China, the defendants face maximum sentences of five years in prison. The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Breon Peace, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said this prosecution “reveals the Chinese government’s flagrant violation of our nation’s sovereignty by establishing a secret police station in the middle of New York City.” Such a police station he said, “has no place here in New York City – or any American community.”

Dennis Molinaro, a professor at Ontario Tech University and former national-security analyst, said the ability of the FBI to lay charges underlines the importance of setting up a foreign agent registry. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is consulting Canadians on whether to establish such a registry, which would track people working in Canada on behalf of foreign powers.

“In the United States, individuals can’t covertly operate and work for a foreign government without declaring that activity, whereas in Canada that activity is not illegal,” Mr. Molinaro said. “So it is a very stark contrast where we see charges brought against individuals in the United States for doing this activity but not in Canada.”

Mr. Molinaro said the FBI has more experience than Canadian authorities in these types of counterintelligence investigations. He said this is because the FBI is responsible for domestic security, while the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency handles foreign intelligence. In Canada, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service do similar work, but CSIS’s investigations do not usually meet the court-ready standards required by the Mounties.

“The FBI are set up to quickly investigate and prosecute these kinds of offences,” he said. “We have a patchwork system in Canada, where CSIS can investigate counterintelligence issues but can only pass information on to the RCMP.”

Even if the RCMP were successful in shutting down the police stations by stationing squad cars outside, there would be nothing stopping China from “opening another one in a month’s time,” Mr. Molinaro added.

Raquel Dancho, the Conservative public safety critic, said Canada is lagging on the matter.

“It is unacceptable that no one has been held accountable for Beijing’s illegal operation of multiple police stations in Canada,” she said.

She welcomed RCMP efforts to shut down the stations, but said the government “must explain why our federal police are not equipped with the tools they need to make arrests of Beijing agents violating Canadian sovereignty.”

The Chinese embassy in Canada has denied that Beijing is operating police stations on Canadian soil. But it has said that governments in China have set up “service stations” in Canada to help Chinese citizens process paperwork and obtain Chinese driver’s licences.

With a report from Reuters

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