Chinese state media reports indicate Vancouver may be host to a controversial “service centre” jointly operated by police in China and members of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department here in B.C.
Such service centres have a stated goal of assisting Chinese nationals with consular services overseen by police in China, such as driver’s licence renewals. However, critics say they may be used for nefarious purposes, including the unsanctioned, extra-judicial repatriation of Chinese citizens living abroad.
What is unclear is where the centre may be in Vancouver.
An August 2018 report from cztv.com states, “At present, the Wenzhou Public Security Bureau has set up 20 contact points in 11 cities, including Vancouver.”
However, a June 27, 2019 statement from the People’s Government of Zhejiang Province on the opening of a “Wenzhou Traffic Management Bureau” in Milan, Italy, indicated a Vancouver station was still in the works: “In the next step, contact points will be established in Vancouver.”
By August 2019, China News Network reported on chinaqw.com the Wenzhou Public Security Bureau created an online overseas police station in Vancouver.
“The 'Police and Overseas Chinese Online' service platform reduces the trouble of running back and forth for overseas Chinese. It saves money and time, and benefits overseas Chinese,” stated the media report (translated by Google).
Human rights group Safeguard Defenders has raised concerns about what amounts to a global network of service centres, asserting it violates international laws where the host country has not approved them.
“The establishment of Chinese Overseas Police Stations without the host country’s consent represents a severe breach of territorial and judicial sovereignty — even if they were to provide ‘only’ consular services such as the renewal of passports or driver’s licences,” stated Safeguard Defenders in a report.
The non-profit watchdog, which monitors disappearances in China, issued a report on Sept. 12 titled “110 Overseas — Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild,” which tied some stations to the People’s Republic of China’s “illicit methods to harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution.”
This week, Safeguard Defenders issued a follow-up report, titled “Patrol and Persuade,” by adding 48 additional stations it had identified, including the one in Vancouver. The report cites the three aforementioned Chinese reports.
In its September report, Safeguard Defenders identified three stations in Toronto, including photos of the locations. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa reportedly stated no police activity occurs at such stations, while RCMP issued a statement that it is investigating the matter.
The B.C. RCMP have not responded to Glacier Media about whether it’s aware of the new information of a possible Vancouver station.
The Safeguard Defenders report acknowledges a knowledge gap in what exactly is occurring at these service stations.
“Much of the information contained in this brief investigation is very recent, making it difficult to fully capture the picture of how these mechanisms interact and/or overlap. China’s growing campaign to police Chinese nationals abroad has gone hand in hand with its expanded ‘anti-corruption’ campaign domestically, but it is rare to get insight into the true scope of its action,” stated the group.
However, the group says there is some evidence the stations are already being used for repatriating suspected criminals. One example is from Madrid, Spain while another is from Paris, France.
The group states how the Chinese appear to be creating station liaisons, or leaders, through local associations that work with the United Front Work Department, China’s foreign propaganda arm. In Paris, one liaison reported to Chinese media how he was “entrusted by the domestic public security organs to help persuade a criminal who had fled in France for many years to return to China through several visits.”