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Two Chinese Canadian community centres in the Montreal area are threatening to sue the RCMP over the force’s public comments about its investigation into whether these facilities were being used as illegal police stations by Beijing to intimidate or harass people of Chinese origin.

The community centres said that since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced a probe in March, they have lost significant portions of their government funding, which came from the province of Quebec and Ottawa. Back in March, the RCMP told media it was investigating “alleged Chinese police stations in Quebec” and confirmed for journalists that these were the two community centres.

The Service A La Famille Chinoise Du Grand Montréal and the Centre Sino-Québec De La Rive-Sud in Brossard, Que., announced Friday they are seeking more than $2.5-million in damages from the Mounties because, they argue, the federal police force through public comments left the impression they were operating illegal foreign police stations on behalf of the Chinese government. The centres deny that they are doing so.

A lawyer acting for the groups sent a demand letter to the RCMP Friday seeking $2.5-million and a public retraction. The letter warned the groups would proceed with legal action claiming a higher amount of damages if the force did not comply with the demand letter.

The force’s probe came amid global concerns raised by Spain-based human rights organization Safeguard Defenders that the Chinese government was secretly operating more than 100 illegal police centres in more than 50 countries that it said were part of Beijing’s growing transnational repression. It said these operations monitor Chinese diaspora communities and play a role in coercing individuals to return to the People’s Republic of China to face criminal proceedings. It said there were several stations in Canada, including in Toronto and Vancouver.

In March, the RCMP said it was “carrying out police actions aimed at detecting and disrupting these foreign state-backed criminal activities, which may threaten the safety of persons living in Canada.”

The investigation unfolded as a major debate began in Canada over foreign interference by the Chinese government, including a February story by The Globe and Mail relying on CSIS intelligence reports that described a concerted strategy by Beijing to disrupt the democratic process in the 2021 federal election. A formal public inquiry is set to commence probing interference in the democratic process by China, Russia and others. In May, Ottawa expelled a Chinese diplomat, Zhao Wei, for meddling in Canadian politics after The Globe revealed Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong was secretly targeted by Beijing for his criticism of its human-rights abuses.

Xixi Li, a Brossard, Que., city councillor and the director of both of the Montreal-area community centres, said in the news conference that the RCMP’s comments were unsubstantiated. She said these had dire consequences for the community centres, which lost most of their funding dedicated to integration and support services, including French-language classes for newcomers and home visits for elders of the Chinese community.

She said they were forced to reduce their staff, cut services and deal with other financial woes since the RCMP’s probe. The Montreal community centre is facing difficulties renewing its mortgage.

In a letter of demand dated Dec. 1 and sent to the RCMP and the Attorney-General of Canada, the lawyer representing Ms. Li and the community centres, Maryse Lapointe, wrote that the RCMP comments and subsequent media coverage constituted a “defamation campaign.”

In addition to $2.5-million “to compensate for the damages” the RCMP has caused them, Ms. Lapointe and her clients are asking for the force to retract publicly its allegations that the community centres are illegal Chinese police stations and to publicly apologize, all within 15 days, or face a potential lawsuit.

In April, then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino told a parliamentary committee the RCMP had “taken decisive action to shut down the so-called police stations.”

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

Under the international Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, such consular and administrative services are supposed to be conducted by embassies and consulates.

May Chiu, a co-ordinator of the community group Montreal Chinatown Roundtable, said Friday at the news conference that, in the weeks following its comments in March, the RCMP interviewed the community centres’ boards but has taken no further action since then.

Members of the Chinese Canadian centres were accompanied by Canadian senators Yuen Pau Woo and Victor Oh as they announced their legal action.

Mr. Woo said the RCMP has left these community centres in the dark as to what alleged wrongdoing was taking place.

“They have not told us what it was that constituted a Chinese police station at either of these locations. And they have not told us what the objectionable activities were and if in fact any objectionable activities that may have taken place were illegal.”

RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Kim Chamberland said the force had no comment on threats of a lawsuit.

She said Mounties across Canada are still actively investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the alleged police stations.

Sgt. Chamberland noted that some of the RCMP’s investigations concern locations “where other legitimate services to the Chinese Canadian community” are being offered.

“Chinese Canadians are victims of the activity we are investigating,” the RCMP spokesperson said. “There will be no tolerance for this or any other form of intimidation, harassment, or harmful targeting of diaspora communities or individuals in Canada.”

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