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Chinese police training in B.C. an espionage risk, critics say: Glacier Investigates

Justice Institute of British Columbia has partnered with China’s Public Security Bureau to facilitate a one-way exchange of students to Canada that critics say is ripe for espionage and contrary to Canadian values

British Columbia’s police academy has a growing international police-training program tailor-made for China’s Public Security Bureau that critics say is a threat to the country’s security and common values.

The Justice Institute of B.C. (JIBC) has accepted close to 2,000 Chinese law enforcement students, recruits and officials, plus dozens of Chinese state judges, to its purported education and training programs, since 2013.

Yet, despite JIBC partnering with some of the world’s most undemocratic countries, whose criminal justice systems enable widespread human rights violations — such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and China — its international law enforcement studies (ILES) program has operated with limited guiding principles and oversight for such considerations, despite being tailor-made for Chinese police academies.

The ILES program is offered to Chinese police academy students, who are China’s future police officers, border agents and prison guards — handpicked by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The program, critics charge, is at best a questionable source of revenue that does nothing to achieve its stated goal of reforming the authoritarian police regime or, at worst, a Trojan horse chock-full of national security threats, such as foreign influence activity, espionage and further offshore human rights violations.

“To think for a second that the Chinese aren't capable of policing their own people is ridiculous when they have a 99.9% conviction rate,” suggests intelligence analyst and transnational organized crime expert Scott McGregor.

“If you compare the criminal justice system of Canada with the criminal justice system of the People's Republic of China, you're going to find the Grand Canyon,” said Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon.

However, said JIBC president Michel Tarko, hosting Chinese judges, police officials and future Chinese police and law enforcement officers in B.C. provides “exposure to the Canadian criminal justice system to broaden their perspective and their understanding of a different system of law enforcement.

“Everything that we do around programming, in the sense of our training, or education, is about looking for safer communities or promoting safer communities in a more just society, not just in Canada, but around the world,” said Tarko, adding he is “not at liberty to comment” on how Chinese police operate in China, particularly toward political dissidents, journalists and minorities.

“I'm not a police expert. I don't have expertise in law enforcement,” said Tarko, who has taken multiple trips to Chinese police academies in an administrative role.

And so, unlike the recent cancellation of Chinese military training in Canada, JIBC intends to continue educating Chinese recruits and their accompanying officials.

Young Chinese recruits
The Chinese Communist Party chooses police and military recruits at a young age - WeChat

JIBC ‘internationalized’ to Public Security Bureau’s satisfaction

Tarko, who said he wasn’t aware of China’s impeccable conviction rate, told Glacier Media, in a 30-minute interview, the institute has engaged with China dating back 30 years.

In reviewing open source JIBC documents — annual reports, strategic reports, accountability plans, financial statements and board meeting minutes — dating back to 2012, it is clear the scope of the international law enforcement program grew exponentially starting in 2013.

JIBC reports international contract revenue (including non-law enforcement studies, such as for firefighters and paramedics) nearly quadrupled from $600,000 in 2014 to $2.3 million in 2018. In that same period, international students increased more than six-fold.

“It's important that we can invest in programs, curriculum development and build further capacity in other areas of the organization,” said Tarko of the revenue.

Political events in China and B.C. in 2013 set a course for such internationalization at JIBC. General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping became president of the PRC and embarked on more centralized state authority at home while expanding Chinese state influence abroad, including in Canada, with its CCP branch, the United Front Work Department.

Meanwhile, in B.C., Christy Clark of the BC Liberal Party was elected to her first full term as premier. Clark ambitiously pushed to intertwine the two economies, culminating in a May 2016 memorandum of understanding with Guandong Province on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a Xi blueprint for foreign economic and cultural expansion.

The MOU included an agreement to expand international student exchanges, signed by then-Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson, whose ministry controls JIBC. The Ministry of Advanced Education is also responsible for the BC Council for International Education (BCCIE), a Crown corporation formed by the Clark government in 2012 with the stated goal of “internationalizing” the province’s education system. (BCCIE’s board is comprised entirely of private- and government-funded education executives, including Tarko and Coquitlam School District superintendent Patricia Gartland, who operates a Confucius Institute, funded by the Chinese government)

During the 2013-2014 school year, JIBC brought more than 300 “Chinese officials” to B.C. on more than two dozen, two-week training programs. As well, 19 judges from the Higher People’s Court of Jiangsu received “an introduction to the Canadian legal and justice system.”

It was in 2014 when the world became acutely aware of policing issues in China, with Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement for democracy formed in the face of repressive police tactics. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported worsening conditions for minorities (non-Han) in the country, aided and abided by Chinese law enforcement and a corrupt criminal justice system.

“The Chinese Communist Party maintains authority over all judicial institutions and coordinates the judiciary’s work through its political and legal committees. The Public Security Bureau, or police, remains the most powerful actor in the criminal justice system,” stated HRW.

The Chinese, stated JIBC, showed “great interest” in the student exchanges and the following year, 400 police recruits came from China, including those from the People’s Public Security University of China, known for its elite training under direct control of the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), also known as the Public Security Bureau.

In 2017, the heightened demand resulted in JIBC launching a new four-month, 15-credit (ILES) program “piloted and developed over several years through educational partnerships with Chinese police colleges.” ILES was promoted in one JIBC document as being “highly regarded by (Chinese) officials.”

Sending recruits to Canada for the ILES have been: Henan Police College, Railway Police College, Shanxi Police College, Chongqing Police College, Jiangxi Police College, Guangxi Police College, Hunan Police Academy, Sichuan Police College, and Jiangsu Police Institute.

The Chinese police recruits are instructed in JIBC classrooms in New Westminster or at a dormitory in Chilliwack that the institution opened for them exclusively in 2017.

Terry Yung
Vancouver Police Department Const. Terry Yung embraced by PRC Consulate General Tong Xiao Ling at a public event in 2019 - Ina Mitchell

Chinese recruits become familiar with local police detachments

The Chinese recruits take tours of local police detachments, such as Burnaby RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

JIBC states the recruits have “gained hands-on training and learned from officers from specialized units of several local municipal police departments.”

Specifically, VPD officers help train the recruits through the JIBC. VPD Chief Adam Palmer is pictured at numerous graduation ceremonies, and often alongside VPD Constable Terry Yung, a program instructor.

Yung, whose wife is Vancouver city councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung, is particularly familiar with Vancouver’s Consulate General, having attended many of its local events, not unlike a liaison for the department, research provided to Glacier Media from documentary filmmaker Ina Mitchell shows.

In May 2018, Yung was part of a four-officer ceremonial brigade at the 9th Conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation trade conference, hosted by China’s consul general Tong Xiaoling at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. Before the massive event, attended by pro-Beijing B.C. politicians, more than 200 intended attendees from China were denied entry visas, reported the Globe and Mail. The brigade stood at attention to the Chinese and Canadian flags and anthems.

‘Xi Jinping Thought’
‘Xi Jinping Thought’ begins at a young age for those selected to enforce Chinese Communist Party laws - WeChat

Chinese interested in studying Canadian police, but only in Canada

JIBC offers offshore international training in several fields (such as firefighting) but when asked how many Chinese recruits are educated as “offshore students” back in China with JIBC material, Tarko said none are, meaning the Chinese are only interested in coming to Canada.

As such, China’s interest in studying Canadian police in Canada raises two possibilities by which JIBC’s program may facilitate espionage, experts and observers of China and the CCP suggest.

First, the Chinese police academies represent an immediate intelligence-gathering threat, said former chief of Asia Pacific for Canada Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Michel Juneau-Katsuya.

“First of all, they will be handpicked and have the duty to report on everything happening and everyone they are meeting,” he said.

“You think bringing a few cadets to the academy is going to help change their mind? This naivety is borderline stupid, in my point of view,” however it is a product of decades of engagement by the Canadian government dating back to Pierre Trudeau’s rapprochement with China in the 1970s, said Juneau-Katsuya.

Gordon echoes Juneau-Katsuya.

“These would be young men and women, mostly men, who have been selected for their ideological purity to come to Canada and pick up some information and then trot back with it to the People's Republic,” he said.

Gordon said SFU has faced similar pressure from China. The Chinese recently wanted open access to high-level cyber-security courses for its nationals but Gordon said he led a push to block the course to international students outside the Five Eyes group of countries (New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States).

“We were particularly concerned about the fascination that was clearly playing out… through their embassy.

“And that was in part because of concerns about people from the police service in China and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) coming in and grabbing all sorts of information and then finding out how we did things,” said Gordon, a former Hong Kong police officer before the 1997 British handover.

McGregor also ties the PLA to what is occurring at JIBC. McGregor is a former military intelligence advisor, once stationed in Afghanistan, and has recently advised the RCMP Federal and Serious Organized Crime unit and B.C. attorney general’s office on the intersection of money laundering and foreign state actors, such as China.

“There is a number of things [the Chinese police recruits and senior officials] can be doing while they're on the ground in a host nation. And that's the concern, because we don't really have that much insight into what exactly that activity is,” he said.

Scott McGregor
Intelligence analyst and private investigator Scott McGregor views the JIBC program for Chinese police recruits as a threat to national security - Chung Chow

Some Chinese students denied visas

JIBC reported how some Chinese students were denied study visas during the 2018-2019 school year, which saw a record 280 Chinese ILES students attend JIBC.

Tarko said he was not provided details as to why some students were denied entry and it’s unclear if the denials followed the Vancouver arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and subsequent arbitrary detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by Chinese officials.

Tarko said he’s never been briefed on matters such as espionage or national security from CSIS or the RCMP; Mounties themselves have visited China in the past and invited the Chinese to their police academy in Regina, in 2013, Chinese state media has reported.

Global Affairs and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) declined to explain why Chinese JIBC students were denied entry, citing privacy reasons for the Chinese nationals. CSIS stated it does not comment on such matters. The Consulate General did not reply to Glacier Media’s query, either.

McGregor said the denial could be for a host of reasons but if it was for national security grounds, he says Canada is late in addressing these sorts of arrangements.

“To be honest, I didn't realize the level of infiltration. I knew they had done some community police stuff, which was very obvious what they're trying to do. I didn't know they had gotten into JIBC at the level they have. I’m a bit taken aback,” he said.

“No one is looking at internal security within law enforcement; very, very few. So you're able to do all these different things; maybe you're just reporting on the port; maybe you're finding out information about how best to get a certain product into the country.

“They can facilitate transnational organized crime by exposing information,” said McGregor.

Or, “maybe they integrate into society, and who they integrate into society with can be important.”

International students to become future local law enforcement?

The second manner by which the JIBC’s program could facilitate espionage, critics suggest, is by helping the CCP integrate into local law enforcement.

After all, the JIBC views its international programs as a mechanism to “meet B.C.’s rising labour force demand for diverse and highly-skilled workers.”

“Why do we have to gather recruitment from international students? Why can’t we just get the recruitment from our own citizens?” asks Ivy Li, a core member of Canadian Friends for Hong Kong, a pro-democracy group.

“I don't understand this. We have lots of Canadian students with different ethnic backgrounds. They are Canadians,” said Li.

Tarko said he could not envision today’s Chinese police academy student becoming tomorrow’s local community police officer.

“I really can't see that happening,” said Tarko.

In B.C., Tarko explained, local detachments first hire recruits, who are then sent to JIBC’s domestic police academy for certification.

CCP-loyalists can gain citizenship, apply to a local police department using spotless credentials, possibly citing JIBC education, and then become dormant until called upon by the CCP, McGregor, Juneau-Katsuya and Gordon all suggest.

But McGregor said it needn’t be a JIBC program participant; the CCP will choose its best candidates and, using the information it has on the police recruitment process, it will send the “sleeper agent” abroad.

“They will know every single aspect of it that there is. You need this requirement, this requirement, this requirement. You need these documents. So then they figure out, ‘Who do I have to bribe to get those documents?’ Or, ‘Is there a way that we can get them legitimately?’ They're very good. They have unlimited resources when it comes to money,” said McGregor.

“The one thing about the People's Republic [of China],” said Gordon, “is that they're immensely patient. They will install individuals or groups of individuals in useful positions and let them sleep until such time as they're needed.

“Having a bunch of people installed that you described is perfectly feasible,” Gordon told Glacier Media. “Now, to get into a police service, they would have to become citizens, right — but that's hardly a difficult task, isn’t it?” suggested Gordon.

JIBC also accepts international students on an individual basis in the Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Law Enforcement Studies (PBDLES), a 60-credit, two-year program that Tarko said is a pathway to permanent residency and thus citizenship.

Tarko said it’s more likely PBDLES could be used by international students as a merit for any future application to domestic law enforcement.

It’s notable that JIBC students may also enter private security jobs. Recently, the B.C. government issued a security license to alleged money launderer and convicted criminal Paul King Jin, raising serious questions about oversight of that field.

Chinese-Canadian concerns have fallen on deaf ears

The prospect of CCP infiltration at any level of local law enforcement frightens Li. “The more they (CCP) understand how we operate in here, our legal system, the more they can manipulate our system to their advantage, given that they are known for espionage, surveillance, and also on stealing sensitive information,” suggests Li.

Two key motives for infiltration include facilitating transnational crime in the interests of China, said McGregor, and facilitating threats and harassment against Canadians within B.C. communities, who speak out against Chinese communist ideology or the Chinese government.

McGregor suggests crimes by pro-Chinese government people can be perpetrated out of ideology for the party, by bribery, including promises of business opportunities or coercion (such as threats to family members in China).

Subversive Chinese “sleeper agents” within Western law enforcement is not without its examples.

In 2005, CBC News reported Chinese defector Hao Fengjing, a low-ranking Chinese intelligence officer, said he had worked in a group in the Chinese Public Security Bureau known as the 610 office, a special unit created in 1999 to monitor and disrupt the activities of the Falun Gong overseas. Hao told of how Canada has more spies operating in it than any other country. The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa called Hao’s allegations “pure fabrication” at the time.

Then there is a more recent high-profile alleged spying event within the New York Police Department (NYPD). Last September, the U.S. Department of Justice issued charges of espionage against an NYPD officer, who claimed to be Tibetan but, as alleged, was a CCP informant against Tibetan dissidents living in the city.

Li says the case of NYPD officer Baimadajie Angwang is concerning to Canadians who are politically vocal against the Chinese government and the CCP, particularly as it relates to matters of religious freedoms, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan — or simply opposing authoritarianism.

Li fears CCP infiltration in B.C. police forces could result in concerns and complaints by CCP dissidents and pro-democracy activists, such as her, being silenced and likely secretly documented. The Chinese, in effect, could build a much more robust dossier on Canadians and Chinese nationals living here, says Li.

Although, similar concerns already exist, as evidenced by testimony at the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Those openly opposed to the Chinese government testified how their complaints have not led to investigations by police across the country.

Amnesty International and activists from the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China (CCHRC) have called for police to take Chinese government actors seriously and for the federal government to conduct a review of Canadian laws to address foreign agents and political influence campaigns.

Last month, the National Observer reported how Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair issued a letter to MPs outlining the threat of foreign influence in Canadian society and within its institutions. CSIS had already revealed much of this activity in past consultative public reports. And international observers had been noting this activity before Blair’s Liberals took power in October, 2015.

That CSIS calls China a “threat nation” and the B.C. government is facilitating tours of its police detachments by Chinese officials makes no sense to Li.

“Our Constitution is officially anti-authoritarian and anti-dictatorship. And now you have handpicked future police, current police students, under the supervision of the Chinese Consulate embedded and trained by our police,” said Li.

Li said she is concerned about the extent of the relationship between the VPD and the Chinese government.

“We should ask, the question is, does this relationship get in the way of our police force? Is it able to look at and investigate all the cases objectively and without bias?”

JIBC international students with VPD Chief Adam Palmer
JIBC international students with VPD Chief Adam Palmer, sixth from left, and JIBC President Michel Tarko, sixth from right, in second row at a ILES graduation ceremony - JIBC

Courting Chinese dollars discredits B.C.’s policing institution: Critics

Another aspect for the JIBC to consider — which it appears to have not, until last year — is how the Chinese may be using Canadian credentials, said Li.

Tarko said JIBC does not track how the Chinese could market their police forces abroad; say in Africa or South Asia where China is exerting more influence with Chinese-built infrastructure.

 Or, as Li asks, are these Canadian-educated officers committing human rights violations in China?

Are they ending up in Hong Kong, where the democratic government has effectively been dismantled by Beijing with the support of police actions? Could they work in Xinjiang to arbitrarily detain Muslims in “re-education camps” in the name of anti-terrorism initiatives? May they suppress freedom of thought in Tibet? Or, could the recruits facilitate the disappearance of journalists and businessmen who fall out of favour with a corrupt official?

As Gordon suggests, they may end up guarding Kovrig and Spavor.

JIBC has no accountability plan to gauge if the ILES program is achieving its goal of creating a safer and more just society in China.

“I think the brick over the head here is, without a shadow of a doubt, the hypocrisy of, on the one hand, trying to protect the two Michaels and, on the other, inviting Chinese criminal justice agents to come here and receive education training. This has not been thought through by the various agencies,” said Gordon.

“I'll be quite candid. I think it's disgraceful that we've got two people being held in a mediaeval fashion as hostages in the People's Republic of China and those who are around them and keeping them have been, in some way, trained at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. What’s wrong with that picture?” asked Gordon.

“Oh, you know, they say they're trained to understand human rights issues. No they’re not.”

The JIBC board of directors raised human rights as it relates to the international programs in June 2018.

“The board encouraged management to ensure more critical thinking when looking to work with countries that may have noted problems regarding human rights violations,” stated the meeting minutes.

It’s not stated anywhere by the JIBC of what critical thinking has been done since June 2018.

Yet, since then there is international consensus that China’s human rights violations have only worsened to the point a parliamentary subcommittee declared last October that China is committing acts of genocide in Xinjiang, facilitated by mass surveillance systems operated by the Public Security Bureau.

In March 2020, “Discussion took place on international contracting and having a clear understanding of international guiding principles or a statement of principles as we enter into negotiations around international contract training”

The board determined it would “discuss” creating “guiding principles on international contracts” at its fall 2020 retreat.

“So with that, we are in process right now working on a policy that will guide decision making, at the request of the Board of Governors,” said Tarko.

Board chair Stephen Gamble, Township of Langley’s fire chief, did not reply to Glacier Media’s offer to comment. The past board chair Sukhminder Virk did reply to Glacier Media but said he did not care to comment.

According to the B.C. government, “the role of a board in guiding its institution takes place within a broader context of serving the public interest and advancing overall public policy objectives.”

Palmer also declined to speak about his detachment’s involvement with the international program.

Furthermore, Minister of Advanced Education Anne Kang declined an offer from Glacier Media to speak about the program. Wilkinson, the former minister of advanced education, also declined to speak specifically to the unique agreement he signed with China, as well as oversight of JIBC.

“What's going on, of course, is the lure of the international students and bags of cash that hang around their necks.” said Gordon.

“Shut it down,” he said.

[email protected] With research from Ina Mitchell