The access that communist China’s Confucius Institutes (CIs) have to Canadian student data, as recently highlighted in New Brunswick, has several members of the Chinese dissident community expressing worry over the institutes operating in their own school district and on Canadian soil in general.
Sheng Xue, a Chinese-Canadian democracy activist in Toronto, said she is very concerned because access to CI student data can potentially threaten the safety of Chinese dissidents targeted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who have any connection with the CI.
“A large amount of factual evidence shows that CI is not a normal educational or cultural exchange organization, but a spy agency that the CCP has penetrated into the international community, so it has the task of collecting intelligence,” Sheng said in an interview.
She said anyone’s personal data in the hands of the CCP can then be used by the CCP for the purpose of persecution.
“If they are the children of Chinese who go to a Confucius Institute in Canada, they are at greater risk,” said Sheng, who is also co-founder of the China Rights Network, a group that unites communities that have suffered under the Beijing regime.
Paul Chan, an executive with Edmonton Hong Kong Civil Rights United, told The Epoch Times that the risk is exacerbated due to the new national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020. That law gives Beijing broader powers to persecute dissidents, whether abroad or in mainland China.
“It will be a huge risk,” Chan said. “Under the new national security law, anything you say that is against the Chinese government is deemed illegal—and it doesn’t matter whether it is Chinese nationals or foreigners.”
Schools in Canada that continue to host CIs are British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Coquitlam School District in B.C., Edmonton Public Schools, University of Regina, University of Saskatchewan, University of Waterloo, Seneca College in Toronto, Carleton University in Ottawa, Dawson College in Montreal, and Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
‘Access to Databases’
New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy told the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on June 21 that parents from the province’s Chinese community have approached him with worries over the CI operating in New Brunswick public schools and its staff’s access to students’ private information.
“We had members of the Chinese Communist Party who were working for the Confucius Institute who have access to the databases and student information of New Brunswick students. I heard about that from members of the Chinese diaspora, who are extremely concerned about that fact,” Cardy said.
“Programs supposedly focusing on culture and language in many cases included overt political propaganda,” Cardy noted. He gave the examples of denying the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, having students draw maps erasing Taiwan’s border with China, and disciplining students who raised questions about China’s human rights abuses.
Cardy has been the driving force behind removing the CI program from New Brunswick schools. In an announcement in August 2019, he said the removal will be done in two stages, with the program closing at 18 schools by the end of that month and the rest by 2022.
Edmonton Public Schools (EPS), Alberta’s second-largest school district, has hosted a CI since 2007 and renewed its contract in October 2018.
EPS offers Mandarin bilingual programming to over 2,000 students, with the CI providing “language and cultural support,” said Megan Normandeau, a communications consultant with the school district, in an email.
Normandeau noted that EPS has not “experienced challenges with the Confucius Institute” similar to those described by Cardy. An interview request was declined.
When asked if the CI has access to students’ personal details, Anna Batchelor, another EPS communications consultant, replied in an email that “visiting teachers from the Confucius Institute work under direct supervision of a Division teacher and do not have access to our data systems or confidential student information.”
‘Hard to Trust’
Sheng said the CCP can obtain the personal data of anyone they target through various monitoring and tracing methods.
Sheng added that many people and organizations in Canada are not aware of or vigilant about the Chinese regime’s methods of persecution.
“Because the CCP is so good at lying and pretending, and at the same time using a lot of money and great material benefits to win over the other party, many people were taken advantage of without realizing it,” she said.
“Some people are invited to China to enjoy high-standard luxury hospitality. The CCP also gives money and gifts, and pay particular attention to personal preferences and needs. After returning to Canada, many people can’t help but begin to think and speak for the interests of the CCP.”
Danny Vo, another member of Edmonton Hong Kong Civil Rights United, said parents ought to request that EPS scrutinize the CI curriculum.
“This is not something we can brush off. As we can see, China’s getting more serious with their soft power and they’re trying to basically take over every global aspect,” he said.
“It’s really hard to trust … those kinds of programs because you just don’t know.”
Kerri Palmer Isaak, board chair of the Coquitlam School District, said in an email that the district’s schools have not encountered any problems with the CI.
Asked to confirm whether the CI has access to students’ personal details, Isaak said the “program is an after-school elective class for students and their parents will have registered them. I am cc our staff to provide even greater clarity.”
However, no follow-up response was provided by Isaak’s staff.