China’s consulate in Vancouver conducts political screening on the potential leadership at influential community organizations that promote candidates for Canadian political office, according to a recording obtained by The Globe and Mail of remarks by a former executive of one of those groups.
Based in Richmond, B.C., the Canadian Community Service Association, or CCSA, regularly attracts Canadian political leaders and Chinese diplomats to its events, calling itself “the Chinese community’s spiritual home,” and a hub for trade and cultural exchange between the two countries.
The Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations (CACA), meanwhile, is made up of 130 groups, and similarly dedicates itself to “encouraging mutual communications and interactions.”
Neither organization discloses formal ties with the Chinese government. The CCSA describes itself as a non-government organization that is apolitical.
But there are requirements for the associations’ leadership, and the Chinese consulate plays a role, according to comments made by Wang Yan in a recorded conversation in 2020. Ms. Wang previously served as the CCSA’s executive president, but resigned several years ago. She had been asked to consider a leadership role in CACA, she said in the recording.
“If you want to be the chairperson, you must not be a person with a Red Notice, or a supporter of Falun Gong, or Taiwan and Hong Kong independence,” she said. People who match that description “can never sit in the chairperson’s chair,” she said.
And, she said in the recording of a conversation that was made in 2020, “if we want to reach the chairman level, we must go through a political review.”
“We have to provide things to the Chinese consulate – everything must go through this political review process,” said Ms. Wang, who resigned from the CCSA several years ago.
A Red Notice is an Interpol tool that functions somewhat like an international arrest warrant, and has been frequently deployed by the Chinese government to seek the extradition of people it considers fugitives.
Beijing considers calls for independence in Hong Kong and Taiwan – the latter a self-ruling democracy – to be threats to its sovereignty.
The Globe is not identifying the person who made the recording, who risks professional retribution for its disclosure.
Canadian cities are home to hundreds of Chinese societies, some organized by place of origin in China, others for humanitarian and other goals. The Globe has no evidence of direct links between Chinese diplomats and that broader array of associations.
The Globe played back Ms. Wang’s recorded comments to her. In response, she said she does not now understand the process for selecting leadership.
Before coming to Canada, Ms. Wang worked in shipping and real estate development in China, she said on the recording. She also spent time with the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the feared internal graft-busting arm of the Chinese Communist Party, she said.
In the interview, she said she is now working in the diamond business in Canada and has no interest in politics.
But both Chinese associations have openly advocated for individual candidates.
In 2018, the CCSA formed “election assistance teams” to support Peter Liu for Richmond city council and Jason Zhen Ning Li for the city’s school board; the association published on its website an image of a ballot with both men’s names circled. A document on the CCSA website lists 20 election team captains.
Neither candidate won, but Mr. Liu was among the candidates also recommended by the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society, which was briefly investigated by police after offering a $20 transportation subsidy to those who voted. The RCMP later said it had found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
The CACA, meanwhile, says part of its primary mission is to organize and mobilize the participation of ethnically Chinese people in politics.
In the 2017 provincial election, the association’s chairman met with several Chinese candidates and promised to “mobilize volunteers and other organizations … to actively help solve some real difficulties.”
The association has supported Richmond Liberal candidate Steven Kou, Vancouver city council candidate Steven Low and Karen Wang. Ms. Wang was a Burnaby Liberal candidate who pulled out of a 2019 by-election after a message on WeChat in which she called herself “the only Chinese candidate in the riding,” while describing opponent and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as being “of Indian descent.”
The Chinese embassy did not respond to questions. Neither did the two associations.
Any Chinese political screening of CCSA leadership amounts to “a direct relationship” between the association and China, said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.
“I would see it as a direct impact on our democracy by the Chinese government,” she said.
Formed in 2002, the CCSA said at a 20th anniversary celebration last year that its membership now exceeds 30,000 people, with 260 corporate members.
It organizes Lunar New Year galas, a cultural-heritage festival and a water-splashing festival. Its events are often attended by local politicians and Chinese diplomats – including former consul-general Tong Xiaoling, who was described in a 2022 Canadian intelligence document as seeking to mobilize voters in favour of a specific candidate in last year’s Vancouver mayoral election. That candidate was not named.
Among those who attended the 20th anniversary event were George Chow, a former Vancouver city councillor who is now a provincial MLA, and Han Dong, the Toronto-area MP who left the Liberal caucus in late March pledging to fight allegations about the contents of his February, 2021 conversation with Han Tao, China’s consul general in Toronto.
There can be practical reasons for groups to maintain close relationships with Chinese diplomats, especially among people who may need to arrange travel visas, seek business opportunities or gain access to certain conferences, noted Jia Wang, interim director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.
Organizations whose members tend to be more recent immigrants, or from mainland China, “tend to have more of an alignment with the perspectives of the Chinese authorities – and some of it is also genuine,” she said. “They just may see things differently.”
Still, political screening for leaders suggests the Chinese consulate is acting like a board of directors for certain groups, said Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China.
“This is direct evidence of China’s interference,” he said.
It raises particular questions for Canadian politicians who attend events hosted by those organizations, said Kenny Chiu, a former Conservative MP who believes he was targeted by a Chinese interference campaign in the past election.
“Elected officials must realize who these people are,” he said.
With reporting by Xiao Xu