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Civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station

VANCOUVER — A Spanish civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station operated by Chinese authorities.
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Ambassador of China to Canada Cong Peiwu participates in an interview with The Canadian Press at the Embassy of China in Ottawa, on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

VANCOUVER — A Spanish civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station operated by Chinese authorities. 

The group Safeguard Defenders said in a report in September that there were Chinese police operations around the world, including three in Toronto, and an updated report names another 48 locations. 

Safeguard Defenders, a not-for-profit human rights group, said two of the new locations are in Canada: one in Vancouver and the second unknown. 

The group's previous investigation looked into the expansion of "long-arm policing" and transnational repression imposed by the Chinese government.

Its latest report, titled “Patrol and Persuade,” gathered more evidence on how these police station function and their “persuasions of return” strategies, the group said in its report. 

“Patrol and Persuade also documents the silent complicity of a number of host countries, instilling a further sense of fear into targeted communities and severely undermining the international rules-based order,” Safeguard Defenders said in an online statement. 

Its previous report alleged employees from the overseas police system use intimidation and threats to enforce the “involuntary" return of immigrants back to China for persecution. 

The group claimed that between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China. 

No one from the Chinese Embassy was immediately available for comment on the new information, but it has previously described the offices as volunteer-run service stations to process things like driver's licences.

The report said the newly documented Vancouver-based police station is being operated by authorities from Wenzhou, a port and industrial city in China's Zhejiang province.

It said most of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, directly refuting the government of China’s previous statements that the operations were started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"New information shows at least one illegal 'persuasion to return' operation run through the Wenzhou station in Paris, France; and at least 80 cases where the Nantong overseas police system assisted in the capture and/or persuasion to return operation," the report said. 

The group claimed their work prompted at least 12 countries, including Canada, to launch investigations into local police stations. 

A series of recommendations have been listed by Safeguard Defenders for all governments to consider, such as educating local law enforcement on the methods used by the operators and imposing costs on entities and individuals involved in the repression efforts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month he raised the issue of interference directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Indonesia. 

Xi later berated him for informing the media about their conversation.

The RCMP said in early November that it is investigating the issue, and officials told MPs in early October that they were aware of the claims by the group. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Nono Shen, The Canadian Press

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