RCMP investigating two alleged clandestine Chinese police stations in Quebec

MONTREAL — Quebec RCMP are investigating what they say are two secret police stations allegedly operated by Chinese authorities at community organizations in the Montreal area.

The federal police force said Thursday its Integrated National Security Team opened investigations a few weeks ago into the suspected clandestine police stations, and investigators called on victims or witnesses to come forward.

The RCMP confirmed the two locations are non-profit organizations that help newcomers to Canada — Chinese Family Service of Greater Montreal in Chinatown and the Centre Sino-Québec de la Rive-Sud located in Brossard, a suburb just south of Montreal.

The alleged police stations are described as overseas outposts that serve to "persuade" people who Chinese authorities claim are fugitives living overseas to return to China to face charges. Last year, Spanish human rights organization Safeguard Defenders noted five such posts in Canada out of more than 100 Chinese police operations identified in more than 50 countries.

RCMP Sgt. Charles Poirier said locations in Toronto and Vancouver are also under investigation. He said he could not go into detail due to the ongoing investigations, first reported Thursday by the Journal de Montréal.

"What we know, though, is that the community is afraid … we know that the MO of those Chinese police stations is to put pressure and to threaten, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, some Chinese community members, either threatening them directly or people still in China — relatives or friends," Poirier said.

He said any type of intimidation, harassment or targeting of diaspora communities will not be tolerated. The RCMP are carrying out actions aimed at detecting and disrupting "foreign state-backed criminal activities" that may threaten the safety of persons living in Canada, Poirier added.

Police have heard from some members of the community but are urging others to come forward to help their investigation. The Mounties have created a phone line to report any threats received in Quebec.

"We're finding it very difficult to get co-operation from the community, and we certainly understand why. We know that some of those individuals are living in fear and they and they have a legitimate concern for their safety and that of their loved ones," Poirier said.

Both Montreal-area organizations identified by the RCMP list Xixi Li as administrator, according to Quebec's business registry. She has more than 20 years of experience in community organizations and is a municipal councillor in Brossard.

Brossard Mayor Doreen Assaad said the allegations came as a shock in her town, which counts a large Chinese population. "To the community at large, I just want to mention I wouldn't want one community to be painted with the same brush, based on allegations related to a government interference," Assaad said in an interview.

Assaad also said that given the allegations, Li, an opposition councillor, should withdraw from her political role until the investigation is complete.

Attempts to reach Li on Thursday through her city contact information and through the organizations were unsuccessful.

At the third-floor office of Chinese Family Service of Greater Montreal, an employee told The Canadian Press that the director was not at the office, but the organization would be holding a news conference and issuing a news release to address the allegations.

Poirier said foreign actor interference is insidious. "Sometimes it could be a behaviour or an activity that would seem benign on the surface," Poirier said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the presence of Chinese police stations in Canada "concerns us enormously," adding that it underlines how the primary targets of foreign interference are diasporas living in Canada.

"We've known about the (presence of) Chinese police stations across the country for many months, and we are making sure that the RCMP is following up on it and that our intelligence services take it seriously," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.

— With files from Marisela Amador.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press