China’s envoy called before minister multiple times to explain ‘police station’ allegations

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China’s ambassador to Canada has been summoned multiple times to appear before Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to respond to allegations that his country is operating “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, 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.”

Epp said Global Affairs Canada and Joly will make decisions and hold further meetings with the envoy, depending on how China responds to the allegations.

His comments came after the Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders issued a report earlier this fall that said China has established at least 54 “so-called police stations” 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 charges of fraud and other crimes. The Safeguard Defenders report says that in most of the cases, Chinese officials 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 family members still living in China targeted by the state with threats to cut off power and water supplies, or to deny access to education.

RCMP investigating

In Canada, the report says, these “police stations” include a residential home and single-storey commercial building in Markham, Ont., and a convenience store in Scarborough, Ont.

​​​​”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.”

The RCMP told CBC News in a media statement that it is “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.”

Embassy dismisses allegations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met briefly with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia last month. He said he raised concerns with Xi about “interference activities in Canada,” including the alleged police stations.

In a statement to CBC in response to questions about these stations, the Chinese embassy said local authorities in Fujian, China 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,” says 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 these overseas “service stations” are staffed by volunteers who are “not Chinese police officers” and are “not involved in any criminal investigation or relevant activity.”

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