RCMP investigating two alleged 'Chinese police stations' in Montreal area
Two Montreal-area organizations are being investigated as "alleged Chinese police stations," the RCMP confirmed Thursday morning.
The RCMP confirmed to CTV News the two locations under investigation are the Service à la Famille Chinoise du Grand Montréal, in Montreal's Chinatown, and the Centre Sino-Québec de la Rive-Sud, in Brossard, on the South Shore of Montreal.
According to human rights group Safeguard Defenders, so-called Chinese police stations are used to monitor and threaten Chinese citizens living abroad, sometimes forcing them to return to China for persecution.
A 2022 report from the organization, which monitors disappearances in China, alleged the discovery of over 100 Chinese police stations across the globe.
The RCMP would not provide further details on the Montreal-area centres involved in the investigation, which was first reported by the Journal de Montréal.
However, the national police force created a new phone line and urged any Chinese Canadians who have been victimized by a suspected overseas police station to come forward and call 514-939-8301.
"These activities and any other form of intimidation, harassment or targeting of diaspora communities or individuals in Canada will not be tolerated," said Sgt. Charles Poirier, a spokesperson for the RCMP.
The Chinese consulate in Montreal did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CTV News on Thursday.
2 CENTRES RUN BY ELECTED OFFICIAL IN BROSSARD
Both centres under RCMP investigation are run by the same executive director, Xixi Li, who is also a Brossard city councillor.
Li did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Brossard Mayor Doreen Assaad told CTV News that she believes Li should "step down" while the RCMP investigation is ongoing into the two centres.
The mayor also said she had concerns about certain behaviours she saw during the 2021 municipal election and filed a complaint with Quebec's chief electoral officer.
She also said Sino-Quebec was heavily involved in getting Li elected.
“There were other things that I had seen where Sino-Quebec, and their desire to elect their general manager, were very actively translating materials, official documentation during the election campaign, using the government logo in those communications, using tools [like] WeChat in order to propagate certain information. I just felt like the 2021 had a particular tone that was very concerning,” she Assaad said.
She said she doesn't want the RCMP investigation to create stigma within the Chinese Canadian community in Brossard.
"I wouldn't want people to ostracize or paint all of the people of Brossard that are Chinese with the same brush," the mayor said.
'A FORM OF FOREIGN INTERFERENCE': FORMER CSIS AGENT
In a press scrum Thursday morning, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was carefully monitoring the situation.
"We're in the process of making sure the RCMP is following up on this and that our intelligence systems are taking this seriously," he said.
"It's an issue that we're very concerned about."
The RCMP is remaining tight-lipped on what activities were carried out in these two locations in the Montreal area.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior CSIS intelligence officer and manager, said these centres are "a form of foreign interference" that seeks to infiltrate all layers of government and "to gain influence within within the business community and the industrial community, in order to be capable to get access to industrial secrets, or intellectual property."
"They might not necessarily be government employees, but they are definitely acting on behalf of the Chinese government and the sole purpose of their presence is not to facilitate any administrative duty, but simply to intimidate to show a presence to be capable to basically keep the community under control and quiet," he said in an interview with CTV News.
The RCMP already opened investigations into three alleged Chinese government police stations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The Safeguard Defender group said it had also identified at least one such station in Vancouver.
The allegations of clandestine centres in the Montreal area on Thursday come as the committee of parliamentarians that oversees national security has begun a study of foreign interference. The study followed recent media reports about alleged Chinese government interference in the last two federal elections.
The consulate general of the People’s Republic of China sent an email statement to CP24 last October that the stations in the GTA are mainly for Chinese citizens renewing their driver’s licence, as many were not able to return to China due to the pandemic.
On Thursday, Bloc Québécois leader Yves François Blanchet reacted to the RCMP probe, saying in a press scrum in Ottawa that he was "disturbed" by the allegations.
Juneau-Katsuya said he has concerns about the Chinese community in Canada being "double" victimized by these so-called police stations.
"The Chinese community that is opposed to the Chinese government are oppressed right here in Canada, and we can barely protect them. And on top of that, they might now have a certain backlash emerging from all this, and people will be sort of hesitant now to trust anybody from Chinese descent, which will be really, really unfair if that happens," he said.
In its report, released in September 2022, Safeguard Defenders alleged the police stations "harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution." It had identified 53 countries in which these so-called police stations exist.
"All these centre stations have one thing in common and that is they are very closely tied to United Front Work Department, which is the Chinese Communist Party's primary influence agency, which seeks to influence various public and private sector entities outside the PRC, which includes, but is not limited to political, commercial and academic spheres," said Laura Harth, Safeguard Defenders’ campaign director, in an interview with CTV News.
Harth praised the RCMP for investigating the two alleged centres in Montreal.
"I understand, obviously, when all of this comes out, that's very worrying. I would argue the fact that it's coming out is a very good first step to start countering these efforts," she said.
"From where I'm standing at the moment and also looking at various responses in various countries, I want to commend Canadian law enforcement. Especially for setting up this dedicated hotline for people that may have been targeted by some of these operations."
With files from CTV's Genevieve Beauchemin and The Canadian Press