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Canada police investigate Chinese 'police stations'

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Canadian federal police are investigating reports of undeclared Chinese "police service stations" in the province of Quebec.

The RCMP said they are looking at two Montreal-area sites believed to be operating on behalf of Beijing.

Human rights groups have accused China of using the stations to threaten and monitor Chinese nationals abroad.

China has denied running the stations, calling them "service centres" for its nationals overseas.

Speaking to media on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they are an issue that his government is "very concerned about".

"We're in the process of making sure the RCMP is following up on this and that our intelligence systems are taking this seriously," he said.

The stations are believed to be among at least 100 operating across the globe in 53 countries, including the UK and the US, according to Spain-based NGO Safeguard Defenders, which monitors disappearances in China.

In a report last year, the non-profit said the stations are part of efforts by China's regime to "harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution".

It said Chinese public security bureaus established the "overseas police service stations" in several continents, including two in London and one in Glasgow. In North America, it found stations in Toronto, Vancouver and in New York.

Last November the RCMP confirmed they were investigating reports of such service stations operating in the Greater Toronto Area.

On Thursday, the federal force asked Chinese Canadians who may have been targeted by what police called "alleged Chinese police stations" to come forward.

"These activities and any other form of intimidation, harassment or targeting of diaspora communities or individuals in Canada will not be tolerated," said RCMP Sgt Charles Poirier on Thursday.

Federal police in the US have previously expressed concern with similar reports of such stations operating in the country.

FBI director Christopher Wray told a US Senate hearing in November that attempts by China to set up a police presence on US soil "violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes".

Safeguard Defenders reported that an alleged Chinese police station has been set up on Broadway in New York City.

Chinese embassies in the US and Canada have said the locations are "overseas service stations'' opened during the pandemic to assist nationals abroad with driver's licence renewal and similar matters.

But Jing-Jie Chen, a researcher with Safeguard Defenders, told the BBC he was sceptical of China's explanation.

"If you really do want to support your nationals abroad, you can use official channels, you do not have to do this undercover," he said.

The RCMP probe comes amid allegations that China attempted to interfere in Canada's two last federal elections, reports which have strained relations between the two countries.

With additional reporting from Jessica Murphy