Beijing’s ambassador in Ottawa has been summoned to explain reports of China setting up what amount to rogue police stations in the Toronto area to harass Chinese ex-pats, lawmakers have been told.

Ottawa formally raised concerns about the three outposts among more than 50 worldwide recently identified by Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders, Weldon Epp, a senior foreign ministry official, told a special parliamentary committee on Canada-China relations.

Canada. Photo: vtgard, via Flickr.

“We’ve had several engagements. We’ve called the ambassador in on multiple occasions, and we have conveyed our deep concern,” Epp told the committee late Tuesday in response to questions about the police stations now under investigation by Canadian federal police.

Beijing has denied accusations it is conducting policing operations on foreign soil, and said the Canadian locations — in a residential home, a single-storey commercial building and a convenience store — were set up simply to offer services, such as driver’s license renewals, to Chinese nationals abroad.

“The government of Canada has formally insisted that the Chinese government take account 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.

Under the convention, consular and administrative services are supposed to be conducted by embassies and consulates.

Epp said Ottawa is considering taking “further decisions for how we take that forward, depending on how they respond,” he added.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police told AFP in October they were “investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called ‘police’ stations” and claims that Chinese expatriates have been harassed.

“The RCMP 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,” it added.

According to Safeguard Defenders, agents have pressured Chinese nationals to return to China to face criminal charges.

China consulate general toronto canada
The Consulate-General of the PRC in Toronto, Canada. Photo: Google Maps screenshot.

In a September report, the NGO said the stations “serve a far more sinister and wholly illegal purpose” than Beijing has acknowledged, including tracking and pursuing targets.

A recently unsealed indictment in the United States in a case of foreign interference against seven Chinese nationals described an example of a person accused of embezzlement and living in Canada who was in 2018 pressed into returning to China, and eventually went “despite initially not wanting to go back.”

The Chinese government coordinated some of the US operation from Toronto, it is alleged in the court documents.

China’s foreign ministry has said the reports were “completely false.” Spokeswoman Mao Ning added that its public security agencies “strictly abide by international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries.”

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