RCMP foreign interference investigators visit B.C. friendship society

RCMP national security officers investigating China’s foreign interference activities in Canada were at the headquarters of a Richmond, B.C. non-profit group on Saturday.

The RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team conducted interviews at the Wenzhou Friendship Society and in the surrounding neighbourhood.

At least a half-dozen officers canvassed the area.

They declined to comment, but residents said police asked them whether they had seen anyone wearing uniforms, or witnessed suspicious activity.

The police action was part of a wider probe, also underway in Toronto, into a Chinese government campaign that uses threats and coercion against community members, said a source close to the investigation.

Read more: ‘Dangerous’: Concerns raised about possible Chinese ‘secret police station’ in Vancouver

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The Wehzhou society was registered in 2001, and is a member of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations. Its $2-million clubhouse at 4266 Hazelbridge Way was purchased in 2011.

A director of the society confirmed police were at the group’s “clubhouse” but said he did not know why. “They came to the building and asked some questions,” said Hua Wei Su.

“I really don’t know what to say, we’re really surprised,” he said.

The director also rejected that the building was linked to alleged Chinese police stations operating in Canada.

“It’s not true,” he said.

Wenzhou Friendship Society website.

The RCMP has been investigating what it calls foreign actor interference in response to China’s increasingly aggressive attempts to exploit Canada to advance Beijing’s economic, security and political interests.

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In particular, China’s powerful security and intelligence apparatus has allegedly been attempting to meddle in Canada’s elections, silence dissidents and intimidate community members.

The Spanish civil rights group Guardian Defenders has alleged that unofficial “police stations” operating under Chinese government guidance in countries such as Canada are being used to “harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution.”

In recent weeks, the RCMP has acknowledged it was investigating allegations that China operates “police service stations” in the Toronto area that engage in threats, extortion and intimidation.

The RCMP national security team has visited three locations in the Toronto area allegedly involved in Chinese police station activity, and has conducted several interviews.

At least one such police station is also allegedly located in Vancouver.

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“The RCMP is aware of reports of activities that are specifically targeting the Chinese diaspora in Canada and is investigating to determine any criminality related to this matter,” the police force said on Nov. 22.

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“Our aim is to prevent intimidation, threats and harassment as well as any form of harm initiated on behalf of a foreign entity being applied to any community in Canada.”

Responding to the allegations, the Chinese embassy has rejected claims the addresses were used to harass and intimidate the community.

Instead, the embassy insisted they were community outreach centres for expatriates, and that “for services such as driver’s license renewal, it is necessary to have eyesight, hearing and physical examination.”

Read more: Toronto businessman allegedly focus of Chinese interference probes: sources

No charges have been laid in relation to the operation at the Wenzhou Friendship Society.

According to its website, the non-profit group’s mandate is to “provide support and assistance to new immigrants to Canada and provide a platform for members to give back to the community as a show of gratitude for their new life in Canada.”

The Globe and Mail has reported that in 2016, the Wenzhou society’s Miaofei Pan hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a private gathering at Pan’s West Vancouver mansion.

Pan offered pro-Beijing businessmen an intimate opportunity to rub shoulders with Trudeau, allegedly in exchange for political donations, the Globe reported.

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B.C. corporate registry documents show Pan was a director of the Wenzhou society as of its Nov. 21, 2015 annual general meeting. He is no longer on the board.

In 2018, the society also faced allegations of vote-buying in three B.C. municipal elections. But the RCMP said it was unable to substantiate allegations the society used WeChat messages that appeared to offer money to voters in Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby.

Read more: B.C.’s four largest cities now facing allegations of civic election interference

According to Public Safety Canada, China passed a National Intelligence Law in 2017 that requires Chinese organizations and citizens worldwide to help with state intelligence work.

A campaign called Operation Fox Hunt is allegedly part of China’s international effort to “silence dissent, pressure political opponents and instill a general fear of state power on Canadian soil,” the agency said on its website.

The People’s Republic of China “uses Operation Fox Hunt to identify and try to repatriate individuals to China who they allege are corrupt. However, the program is widely believed to have also been used as a means to stifle regime criticism,” it said.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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