Thursday, July 6, 2023

Breaking exclusive: Ottawa alerted in 2015 Beijing covert repatriations escalating

Breaking exclusive: Ottawa alerted in 2015 Beijing covert repatriations escalating, but Trudeau Government ignored repeated intelligence warnings to mount ‘All-of-Government’ response

Ottawa only started criminal investigations into Beijing’s covert repatriations after SafeGuard Defenders issued a global report

Ottawa has known since December 2015 that Beijing’s covert repatriations were escalating in Canada, yet Justin Trudeau’s administration ignored urgent recommendations from CSIS to organize an “all-of-government-effort” against China’s secret police intrusions, according to a June 2019 national security report.

Prime Minister Trudeau was also briefed repeatedly on Beijing’s so-called “Fox Hunt'' operations, the report says, including a 2018 memo from his national security advisor that repeated CSIS’s warnings and advice.

But incredibly, Ottawa’s efforts to intervene against Beijing’s clandestine operations actually “waned” after Trudeau was briefed, the report says.

And meanwhile, the June 2019 document says, “Chinese Fox Hunt activities have increased in intensity.”

These findings from NSICOP, a parliamentary intelligence body that reports to Trudeau, portray Beijing’s secret agents wielding dangerous power in Chinese diaspora communities, essentially unimpeded by Ottawa. 

“PRC officials have used covert and unauthorized tactics,” the report says, “including unauthorized trips to Canada, threats, intimidation, harassment, arresting relatives in China as a form of leverage, paying Chinese-language journalists to locate and track individuals, and discouraging people from reporting their covert activities to Canadian police.”

Sources with awareness of RCMP and CSIS’s monitoring of Fox Hunt agree with NSICOP’s findings.

In late 2020, one source pointed to an FBI investigation in New York that ultimately led to convictions against a Chinese-American man and a former New York police officer for acting as undeclared Chinese agents in conspiracies targeting citizens on American soil. 

The source said Canadian law enforcement officials were asked to pursue similar investigations in 2017 and 2018, but “no investigations were ordered.”

“The Canadian government is doing nothing,” the source said in 2020. “The U.S. take hard action, while we just sit here and observe.”

Another stunning allegation in the June 2019 NSICOP report reviewed by The Bureau, suggests Beijing turned a blind eye to fentanyl trafficking in order to pressure Ottawa into allowing Fox Hunt investigations.

 “The RCMP noted that it needed to balance its approach on Fox Hunt against RCMP investigative and enforcement priorities with China, notably fentanyl and money laundering investigations,” says the NSICOP document.

Sources not authorized to speak publicly confirmed this intelligence.

“We knew that their intent [in Fox Hunt] is to target ex-pats,” one source said. “So the Chinese Communist Party held this over us when we went asking assistance to combat the opioid crisis.”

Egregious Abuse of Tourist Visas

The June 2019 NSICOP report explains that after 2012, Fox Hunt operations purporting to bring Chinese corruption suspects in Canada back to justice scaled up under President Xi Jinping. 

The RCMP initially assisted China’s probes because Beijing agreed to seek permission before sending agents into Canada. But it became clear from 2015 that Fox Hunt was a pretext for Beijing’s international repression and intelligence gathering. 

“As CSIS summarized, ‘PRC threat actors are covertly and knowingly circumventing Canada’s law enforcement, immigration and judicial authorities,” the NSICOP report says.

It adds in December 2015 — although Global Affairs Canada had “expressed concerns that any response on Fox Hunt would undermine Canada’s bilateral relations with PRC” — Canada’s ambassador in Beijing addressed “Chinese officials about unauthorized activities of Chinese police in Canada.”

That action followed the Harper Government issuing a formal diplomatic “demarche” note in June 2015 “reminding China of its obligations” to provide access to Canadian citizens arrested in China, NSICOP’s report says.

Next, in September 2016, Trudeau’s national security advisor raised Fox Hunt concerns with Beijing at a high-level national security dialogue.

After CSIS reported Beijing was ignoring Canada’s diplomatic messages, the national security advisor again raised Fox Hunt in a June 2017 meeting with senior Chinese officials.

But China’s covert operations continued.

And in November 2017, Canada’s Embassy in Beijing discovered two Chinese police officials had applied for tourist visas to travel to Canada “as part of Fox Hunt.”

In response Global Affairs Canada asked the Privy Council Office to issue a “demarche” to Beijing “for this egregious attempt to go around processes put in place between both governments.”

But that didn’t happen.

“No action was taken at that time,” the June 2019 NSICOP report says, “or more generally, since.”

“Briefing Note to PM-Fox Hunt”

In March 2018, CSIS provided the intelligence equivalent of a red alert for Trudeau, widely circulating an assessment called Covert Chinese Repatriation Activities in Canada Continue to Defy Canadian Authorities.

 “Investigating covert Chinese repatriation is extremely challenging and resource-intensive,” the report says.

It was distributed to RCMP, Global Affairs Canada, Privy Council Office, Department of Justice, Fintrac, Canada Border Services, Immigration and Citizenship, Public Safety, National Defence, Canada’s cyber-intelligence agency and Transport Canada.

“Detecting repatriation efforts before they occur or before threat actors travel to Canada is particularly difficult, and Canadian authorities are often not aware of threat activities until after they have occurred,” CSIS’s report asserted.

“Countering Chinese covert repatriation activities therefore requires an international and all-of-government effort.” 

But the status quo held in Ottawa.

So in late 2018, Trudeau’s national security advisor “provided a briefing note to the Prime Minister … using similar language as the CSIS assessment,” NSICOP’s June 2019 report says.

The Briefing Note to the PM-Fox Hunt, said “countering Chinese covert repatriation activities … requires an international and multi-department effort.”

Conversely, efforts to counter Fox Hunt evidently diminished. 

“Co-ordination on Fox Hunt appears to have waned,” the NSICOP report says. It cited CSIS’s testimony in April 2019 informing NSICOP’s panel there was “no recent engagement on this front.”

At some point, though the date is not disclosed, the Privy Council Office also issued a Memorandum for the Prime Minister: Chinese Covert Repatriation Activities in Canada, saying: “the repatriation activities include clandestine and coercive measures that target and threaten individuals across the globe, including those residing in Canada.”

NSICOP’s report highlights Ottawa’s failures to implement a “whole-of-government strategy” on Beijing’s covert repatriations by quoting from a 2017 Privy Council Office note distributed to Canada’s Five Eyes intelligence partners.

It said Ottawa’s departmental coordination on foreign interference was “ad hoc in nature and design.”

“This has undermined Canada’s ability to more effectively and efficiently respond to what is becoming a growing problem for Canada domestically and abroad,” the Privy Council Office reported.

No political will

The RCMP ultimately launched investigations into China’s covert repatriation networks in late 2022 after SafeGuard Defenders, an international NGO, released a report documenting Beijing’s use of covert “police stations” in Canada and many other countries.

The Bureau informed SafeGuard’s Laura Harth of the NSICOP report’s details.

In an interview Harth said “I was amazed to see [Trudeau’s government] were aware right from the start, of Fox Hunt being problematic.”

“What emerges from this information is you need someone at the top saying we need the investment and political will,” she said.

Meanwhile, Canadian Uyghur-rights activist Mehmet Tohti said surveillance and harassment of Canadians plus threats targeting relatives in China described by NSICOP’s 2019 report actually started in Canada, from the early 2000s.

That’s when Tohti says he reported to Global Affairs Canada and CSIS that suspected Chinese agents in a black SUV were monitoring his Toronto-area home, following his vehicle, and causing him to fear for his safety.

In another incident, he recalls receiving a phone call from an official who only identified themself as an “Overseas Affairs” agent in China.

The official warned Tohti to cancel plans to attend a Uyghur-rights conference in Germany.

“They put my mother [in Xinjiang] on the line too, and she spoke to me,” he recalled. “[The Chinese official] said if you go to Germany, ‘We can do anything we want.”

“China wants to stop our voices here,” Tohti concluded. “But Canada somehow has been closing their eyes and pretending not to see this.”

NSICOP’s 2019 report also found CSIS and RCMP lacked a common understanding of how foreign interference should be enforced.

For example, NSICOP said, RCMP had difficulty linking suspected offenders in Canada to their task-masters in Beijing under Canada’s current legislation.

This is not a problem for the United States which uses its foreign agent registration act in its Fox Hunt indictments.

To address these problems, NSICOP recommended Trudeau’s government study legal amendments to Canada’s Security of Information and CSIS Acts and consider implementation of a foreign registry similar to those in Australia and the United States.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Public Safety have not yet responded to The Bureau’s questions on why NSICOP’s recommendations were not followed.

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