A former student of a contentious international police training program at the Justice Institute of BC has been criminally charged in the United States for allegedly orchestrating an online network of harassment against American residents who express opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.
On April 17, the Federal Bureau of Investigation unveiled charges of criminal transnational repression against 34 officers with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Among them, 26-year-old Chen Zhichen, a former Justice Institute of BC (JIBC) student.
Chen, according to the bureau’s allegations, was a leader of an online “troll farm” that targeted Chinese nationals residing in America who expressed opposition to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on key matters the authoritarian regime is attempting to suppress, such as: Hong Kong democracy; Tibetan and Taiwanese independence; the ongoing allegations of genocide against Uyghur people; unsanctioned religious expression and historic events such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
Chen is a member of the MPS First Bureau, which is China’s secret police agency. Its mandate includes suppressing free speech against the PRC government and spreading pro-CCP propaganda, according to the indictment filed in a New York federal district court.
“As alleged, the Chinese government deploys an elite task force of its national police—the 912 Special Project Working Group—as a troll farm to attack Chinese dissidents in our country for exercising free speech in a manner that the PRC government disfavours and spread disinformation and propaganda to sow divisions within the United States,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace.
Since at least March 2020, Chen “acted in the role of a Group team leader—regularly leading shifts of Group officers who posted, monitored and updated content on various social media platforms,” including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, “to influence perceptions on issues sensitive to the PRC government and to target dissidents and critics of the CCP,” including by means of threats and harassment, the indictment claimed.
Chen’s link to JIBC was first discovered last week by the Found in Translation Substack website, dedicated to linking CCP- and PRC-connected activity in Canada and the United States to Chinese state media reports.
A December 2017 WeChat post from the “Learning Department of the Student Union of the Youth League Branch” shows Chen discussing her Canadian education and training to other MPS police recruits. Chen attended as a recruit from the People’s Public Security University of China.
The JIBC confirmed to Glacier Media that Chen attended JIBC for coursework on the Canadian judicial system, including “introductory content common in Canadian academic law enforcement programs, such as an overview of the Canadian justice system and comparative international justice systems.”
The public-funded post-secondary institute noted Chen’s education was within the institute’s academic program and not the police academy it runs for prospective B.C. police officers.
“JIBC shares international concerns about China’s alleged intimidation of dissidents living outside China,” stated JIBC spokesperson April van Ert.
Between 2014 and 2020 the institute welcomed over a dozen Chinese police academies, as part of a burgeoning international law enforcement studies program. The institute took in $3.3 million from the academies, which fall under MPS direction.
The Chinese police recruits studied various aspects of Canada’s law enforcement and judicial system as well as basic hands-on police training (including use of force tactics) from members of the Vancouver Police Department.
In January 2021, Glacier Media reported on concerns from within the Canadian law enforcement and Chinese diaspora communities that the program constituted a risk to national security. The program was subsequently shut down in 2021 after JIBC board members expressed similar concerns.
“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,” stated Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon, who also noted, among a handful of concerns, that any certificates Chen and the more than 2,000 police recruits were handed over that time period could prove valuable for prospective immigration applications.