TORONTO—Chen Yonglin came to Canada with a package of secret government documents and some shocking allegations.
Canada, he said, is beset with Chinese spies, informants, and front organizations that do the bidding of the Chinese communist regime on Canadian soil.
Chen's statements, made during a nine-day visit to Canada that ended last week, ruffled the feathers of one organization in particular: the National Congress of Chinese Canadians.
According to Chen, who was the first secretary at the Chinese consulate in Sydney until he defected in 2005, the NCCC is at the top of a pyramid of groups set up by the Chinese embassy and consulates in Canada. Their goal, Chen says, is to control and influence the Chinese community and the Canadian government.
The NCCC regularly lobbies the Canadian government; its leaders campaign for chosen candidates in elections, and the organization has sought large government grants.
Not surprisingly, the NCCC did not like being labelled a front for a foreign communist power.
After Chen returned to Australia, the NCCC sent a strongly worded statement to Chinese-Canadian media denying Chen's claims.
It accused Chen of "making untruths, creating hatred, and damaging the peace of Canada's Chinese community." It also threatened to sue The Epoch Times, which reported Chen's comments in its Chinese-language edition.
But Chen has stood by his comments, and research by The Epoch Times suggests there may be a basis to his claims about the NCCC.
Leaders with Connections
Speaking Wednesday with The Epoch Times, NCCC executive secretary David Lim denied he had a close relationship with the Chinese authorities.
"I've been in Canada for over half a century. I know a lot of people. I don't have close relationships with any group," Lim said.
He said claims that he is one of the Toronto Chinese consulate's most-trusted supporters were just "rumours."
Yet Lim is the Canadian representative for the overseas edition of the People's Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.
Lim's own Toronto-based Chinese Canadian Post is a single sheet that wraps around the weekend edition of the People's Daily and regularly echoes its views.
For example, the March 4, 2006 edition of the Chinese Canadian Post included on its single sheet 10 articles criticizing Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian and the Taiwanese independence movement, along with a full-page ad from National Defense Canada.
Lim is one of three high-profile leaders of the NCCC. The others are executive chair Ping Tan and national co-chair Hughes Eng.
Tan owns Bond International College, a boarding school in Toronto that promotes itself as a "major training base" for visiting Chinese officials. The school boasts that it has a special designation allowing it to receive officials from China's Shanxi Province and has hosted officials from the Chinese human resources ministry, education ministry, and Supreme Court. It also houses a large number of students from Mainland China.
Tan, who is also involved in joint-venture schools in China, regards the Chinese consulate as his main client, says one former employee. Consular officials regularly come to give speeches at his school and Tan hosted a going away party for the previous Chinese consul general Chen Xiaoling at the institution.
Hughes Eng, 79, is seen in the Chinese community as one of the Chinese consulate's go-to guys. According to a glowing biography of Eng found on a Chinese communist regime's website, Eng's grandfather settled in Canada in the late 1800s. However, Eng has kept ties in China. His brother, a former sports official in the Chinese communist regime, received Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1973 when he visited China and opened relations with the communist regime.
The NCCC claims it was founded in 1991 with the purpose of "helping resolve the 'head tax' issue, fighting to get equal social status for Chinese, and speaking for the Chinese community."
But former diplomat Chen Yonglin tells a different story.
According to Chen, after the student massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989 many Western governments froze diplomatic relations with China, and in response the Chinese regime helped found community organizations in those countries to get its message across.
"Organizations like the National Congress were founded based on issues that Chinese Canadians care about, and using the name of unity," says Chen. "But the real purpose was to further the interests of the Chinese regime in Canada and to lobby the Canadian government."
NCCC denies this and says it is "absolutely is not controlled by any party or political force."
The organization has said that it speaks for the Chinese community and as recently as 2005 it claimed to represent 300,000 Chinese-Canadians—about 30 per cent of Canada's Chinese population. It says it is an umbrella organization of many Chinese groups.
But other members of the Chinese community have disputed NCCC's claims. And a survey of more than 1,000 Chinese-Canadians in 2005 found that less than three per cent said they were represented by the NCCC.
NCCC leaders have also refused to provide lists of the 280 organizations it claims to represent. When reached Wednesday by The Epoch Times, two NCCC leaders were unable to answer how many groups the organization currently represents.
"Usually it is just a handful of people running these organizations and working with the Chinese mission to achieve the mission's goals overseas," says Chen. "Some organizations have fewer than 10 real members."
Combining smaller groups – many with overlapping members and embellished membership totals – under an umbrella group makes it sound credible, Chen says.
Whom the NCCC represents was called into question during the most recent federal election campaign that ended on Jan. 23, 2006 with a win for Stephen Harper's Conservative Party.
The hottest issue in that campaign in the Chinese community was redress for the discriminatory "head tax" that was charged to Chinese immigrants to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
While other Chinese community groups had long been calling for an apology and compensation for the surviving victims of the tax, the NCCC came onto the scene and said neither was necessary.
Before the election, NCCC leaders reached an agreement in principle with the then-Liberal government of Paul Martin to forgo an apology and compensation and instead set $2.5 million toward a new foundation headed by NCCC leaders. That foundation would then be responsible for allocating a further $10 million to projects highlighting the contribution of Chinese-Canadians.
During the campaign, Stephen Harper promised to compensate the head taxpayers directly. In an editorial published in English on the front page of his Chinese Canadian Post, on June 3, 2006, Lim pleaded to Harper not to cancel the agreement in principle and said it was the best way to redress the head tax injustice. However, the deal appears to have been scrapped.
While there may be questions over the NCCC leaders' sincerity in advocating for the interests of the Chinese community, there is no disputing their earnest efforts to press issues that are dear to the Chinese authorities.
At a state-organized "friendship conference" of overseas Chinese groups close to the communist regime held in Beijing in October 2003, Hughes Eng told a crowd of other pro-communist leaders and Chinese officials how the NCCC had convinced the Toronto Sun newspaper to apologize for a cartoon it published that was critical of the Chinese regime.
The cartoon, printed during the SARS outbreak, implied that SARS was "made in China."
Eng said that the NCCC, together with the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (an organization of which Eng, Tan, and Lim are also executives) had written letters and organized protests against the cartoon, even rallying Chinese to boycott the paper. "The Chinese consul general in Toronto expressed indignation at the Toronto Sun's intention to discredit the Chinese government," Eng said, adding that, "the whole world admired and praised the Chinese government for its effort in fighting SARS. There was no such thing as a deliberate cover up."
Eng boasted that after members of his organization met with the Sun's editorial board, the paper agreed to print an apology.
But Chen Yonglin says the Chinese regime's main goals overseas are not merely saving face. He says the priority is to discredit and intimidate five target groups: Tibetan exiles, Taiwanese, Uighur Muslims, democracy activists, and most of all, adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline, banned by the communist regime since 1999.
Chen headed up the Sydney consulate's political department, which was responsible for taking the lead to combat the five groups. He presented internal documents showing how Chinese organizations in Australia were used to target the five groups.
The NCCC appears to have been doing similar things in Canada. In 2001, NCCC organized a public rally to "condemn Falun Gong" in Toronto's Chinatown. The event was advertised in David Lim's Chinese Canadian Post . Hughes Eng hosted and Ping Tan delivered a speech, as did the Chinese consul general at the time, Zhou Xingbao.
The same year, the NCCC wrote to then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien calling on him to put a stop to Falun Gong protests outside the Chinese consulate. The letter said the protest damaged the Canada-China friendship.
Chen Yonglin says that letter was actually drafted by the Chinese consulate and given to the NCCC to present to the prime minister. Chen's Sydney consulate was forwarded the letter, where it was held up as an example to learn from.
In 2002, Ping Tan and Hughes Eng were co-chairs of a Chinese regime-sponsored China Tibetan Culture Week event featuring Tibetan films, photos, religious art, song, and dance, according to a report about the event in the official People's Daily.
Both the Chinese ambassador at the time, Mei Ping, and the Chinese then-consul general, Sun Shuxian attended, as did some Canadian officials.
The only guests apparently left out were members of Toronto's Tibetan exile community, who were relegated to protesting outside.
In 2004, when a Toronto city councillor put forward a motion to honour a Falun Gong Week (Falun Dafa is another name for Falun Gong), Eng wrote to the mayor and councillors urging them to vote the motion down. So did the Chinese consulate. David Lim was seen onsite the day of the voting, directing a small crowd of Chinese waving banners decrying the motion. The council voted to not even discuss the matter.
When a Chinese-language television network that frequently reports critically of the Chinese regime applied for a license to broadcast in Canada, the NCCC wrote to Canada's broadcasting watchdog, CRTC, to oppose the move.
A report written in March 2005 and leaked to The Epoch Times from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa by another defector showed that the embassy was planning on directing Chinese organizations to write similar letters to the CRTC.
The NCCC has also earned praise from the Chinese consulate for its efforts to discredit the Taiwan independence movement. Reports about the NCCC's work in this area have been posted on the website of the Toronto Chinese consulate, and on China's foreign affairs website.
When asked if the NCCC has ever taken a position that diverged from the Chinese regime's line in the last two years, Lim said he could not remember any.
CSIS Sounds Alarm on Chinese Spies
Concerns over the Chinese regime's ability to influence Canadian society and policy were brought out in April when Jim Judd, the head of Canada's spy agency, CSIS, broke with the policy of not naming countries and revealed that nearly half of CSIS's counter-intelligence resources were being dedicated to Chinese spies in Canada.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, the former CSIS chief for Asia Pacific says there are at least two dozen front organizations controlled by the Chinese regime operating in Canada.
Among them, Chen Yonglin says, are a number of Chinese student groups and professionals organizations. While most members of these clubs are oblivious to the connections with the Chinese consulates, their leaders operate under the directives of the Chinese regime.
Juneau-Katsuya recognized the NCCC immediately when asked but said he could not comment on whether it is an organization CSIS would be interested in.
"CSIS's responsibility is to protect Canadians and the government of Canada. Any organizations perceived as acting on behalf of foreign government to do political or other forms of interference is and will be investigated by CSIS."
Juneau-Katsuya also raised an alarm that such efforts may increase, owing to an increased budget for the Chinese regime's United Front Work Department, which manages such efforts overseas.
"The United Front Work Department has been extremely active in supporting financially and logistically many of the organizations of this nature as front organization to promote Chinese interests and to spy on Canadians and Chinese abroad," he said.
Juneau-Katsuya cited a Chinese newspaper report indicating that Chinese Communist Party's central committee had dedicated an additional $3 billion to the Foreign Affairs Department and United Work Department to "embellish" the Chinese regime and China abroad for the next fiscal year.
"They have at their disposal a phenomenal amount of resources to use front organizations and people supporting their activities," says Juneau-Katsuya.
"Any organization that is used by a foreign entity to do such activities here is judged to be unacceptable."
Additional reporting by Anna Yang.