Canada police probe alleged Chinese 'police stations' in Montreal

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By Ismail Shakil and Molly Cone

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Police said on Thursday they are investigating allegations that two Montreal-area centers are being used as Chinese state-backed "police stations" to intimidate or harass Canadians of Chinese origin.

The investigation adds to mounting allegations of Chinese interference in Canada's internal affairs, including accusations by Ottawa that Beijing tried to influence the last two Canadian elections. China has denied those accusations.

"We are carrying out police actions aimed at detecting and disrupting these foreign state-backed criminal activities, which may threaten the safety of persons living in Canada," the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Quebec said in a statement.

Countries including the United States and the Netherlands have conducted similar probes following a report in September by Safeguard Defenders, a Europe-based human rights organization, detailing the presence of dozens of Chinese police "service stations" in major cities globally.

In November, the RCMP also launched an investigation into similar reports of Chinese "police service stations" in the Toronto area. The RCMP in Ontario did not respond to a request for information on that probe on Thursday.

The RCMP's deputy commissioner for federal policing, Michael Duheme, told a parliamentary committee last week that the agency has "taken overt actions" that led to the ceasing of operations at four alleged Chinese police stations.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment. It has previously said that there are centers outside China run by local volunteers, not Chinese police officers, that aim to help Chinese citizens renew documents and offer other services disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Quebec RCMP alleged that Canadians of Chinese origin have been "victims of the possible activities" conducted by two centers, in Montreal and nearby Brossard, it has identified as possible police stations run by Beijing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told parliament on Thursday his government would take every measure to protect Canadians from "unacceptable actions by hostile authoritarian regimes."

VISA DENIED

Tensions between Canada and China soared in late 2018 when Canadian police detained an executive of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co, which was followed by Beijing's arrest of two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021. More recently, accusations of election interference by China have strained relations.

Last autumn, Canada denied a visa to a Chinese diplomat after authorities found the individual was a "political operative," Foreign Minister Melanie Joly told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.

"When China wanted to send a political operative last fall, we decided to deny a visa," she said during the committee's hearings focused on allegations of Chinese election interference.

Joly's disclosure followed Trudeau's announcement on Monday that he will appoint an independent special investigator to probe those allegations and also announced separate new probes into the suspected foreign meddling.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by David Gregorio)