Canadian police on Tuesday appealed for witnesses as part of an investigation into “policing service centers” allegedly sponsored by Beijing to target potential criminals outside China’s borders.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the investigation involved “possible interference by foreign actors” in undeclared police offices in the Greater Toronto Area. In a September report, Spanish NGO Safeguard Defenders said it had identified three such sites operating in Canada’s densely populated financial hub.
The nonprofit, which tracks the disappearance of dissidents in China, said the ‘overseas police service centers’ were an extension of China’s municipal public security bureaus, which pressure nationals Chinese and their families to persuade the suspects to return home to face criminal charges.
The report also linked the centers to the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party body responsible for overseas influence campaigns. Beijing denies both.
Canadian police said they are “aware of reports of activity specifically targeting the Chinese diaspora in Canada and are investigating to determine any criminality related to this matter.”
“Our goal is to prevent intimidation, threats and harassment and any form of harm initiated on behalf of a foreign entity from being applied to any community in Canada,” the notice reads.
Ottawa joins more than a dozen other governments in launching investigations into allegations of undisclosed policing, a potential violation of laws in host countries in the absence of cross-border policing agreements.
The United States, Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have announced their own revisions since the publication of the Safeguard Defenders report.
Interference by a foreign actor “is an unlawful activity that targets Canadian interests, or interferes with Canadian society and threatens the national security of Canada,” Canadian authorities said. “This includes attempts to threaten, harass, influence, intimidate, bribe or discredit individuals, organizations and governments to serve the interests of a foreign country.”
The NGO has identified 54 overseas policing centers in 25 cities and 21 countries, linked to just two public security bureaus. Public police records show some 230,000 suspects were persuaded to return to China between April 2021 and July 2022, he added.
Since the report was first published, at least 16 additional posts from an additional Chinese police bureau have been identified, the NGO said.
According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the exact nature of at least one such location in New York was still unclear and a cause for apparent concern. He told a Senate committee earlier this month: “I am very concerned about this. We are aware of the existence of these stations.”
“But to me, it’s outrageous to think that Chinese police would try to move into, you know, New York, let’s say, without proper coordination,” he told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “It violates sovereignty and bypasses standard judicial and police cooperation processes.”
In response to earlier allegations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that the sites were neither police stations nor occupied by Chinese authorities.
“They help overseas Chinese nationals who need help accessing the online service platform to renew their driver’s license and receive physical exams for this purpose,” he said. said at a regular press conference in early November.
“The sites are provided by local overseas Chinese communities who wish to be helpful, and the people who work at these sites are all volunteers who come from those communities. They are not Chinese policemen. It is not no need to make people nervous about it,” Zhao said.
Wang Wenbin, Zhao’s colleague at the Foreign Ministry, referred to the sites in October as “overseas Chinese service centers”. The Safeguard Defenders report suggested that these centers may in fact house the quasi-police stations in question.
The centers, many of which are publicly traded on the Internet, are associated with overseas Chinese communities, which the NGO says “have been massively co-opted by the CCP’s United Front organizations, which seek to control many more and more the Chinese diaspora”.
Speculation about the role of these centers goes back years, with public records showing approvals from Chinese embassies for contributions to overseas Chinese communities. This suggests a more complicated relationship with Beijing than the centers generally acknowledge.