Federal Court Affirms China's Overseas Agency in Canada Engaged in Espionage

Federal Court Affirms China's Overseas Agency in Canada Engaged in Espionage
A judge dismissed the appeal of a Chinese couple who had applied for permanent residency in Canada due to the husband’s former employment with the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, on Jan. 19, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

A federal court judge has affirmed that an overseas agency of China is involved in acts of espionage that go against Canada’s interests.

In a ruling on Jan. 19, Justice Vanessa Rochester wrote that there are enough grounds to believe that the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO) has engaged in espionage activities that are “contrary to Canada’s interest.”

“Given the evidence in the record that links OCAO to the activities described by the [Immigration Citizenship and Refugees Canada (IRCC)] Officer, it was reasonable for the Officer to conclude that there were reasonable grounds to believe that OCAO had infiltrated overseas Chinese communities in Canada and other countries and engaged in covert action and intelligence gathering,” Rochester ruled.

“Consequently, I conclude that the Officer reasonably determined that such acts by OCAO fall within the definition of espionage.”

The decision came in the case involving former OCAO employee Yong Zhang and his spouse Yuxia Gao, who were sponsored by their daughter, a naturalized citizen, to become permanent residents in Canada. Their applications were denied after an IRCC officer in Hong Kong deemed them inadmissible due to Zhang’s previous employment with OCAO.

The couple asked for a judicial review of their applications but they were dismissed by Rochester who upheld the IRCC ruling.

The judge noted Zhang was a computer technician from 1983 until 2002, at which time he was transferred to an administrative position. She wrote in her ruling that Immigration Canada noted by the time Zhang retired in 2004, he was a “chief staff member.”

Additionally in her ruling, the IRCC officer had cited legislation that prevents members of organizations that engage in espionage and harm Canada’s interests from immigrating here, and OCAC matches the requirements.

OCAC is a national-level bureaucracy controlled by the Chinese communist regime. While the regime claims that the agency “protect[s] the legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese,” a scholarly article by James To, a senior adviser at the Asia New Zealand Foundation, cited by the court, says otherwise.
According to To, "qiaowu," or overseas Chinese affairs work, “in practice ‘works to legitimise and protect the [Chinese Communist Party] CCP’s hold on power, uphold China’s international image, and retain influence over important channels of access to social, economic and political resources both domestically and abroad.’”

“To achieve this, qiaowu is conducted in view of two aims: to attract the OC [overseas Chinese] back into the fold of the Chinese nation-state, and to convey and project to them the nation-state agenda. Implicit in these objectives is the elimination of potential threats and rival discourses that may challenge the CCP.”

Relying on the research of To, the IRCC noted that OCAO has been involved in covert action among Chinese communities in Canada, including monitoring their activities and exercising political influence. It also works on “how to gain and consolidate trust amongst targets, how to actively manage targets and how to supervise their behaviour.”

Akshay Singh, an international affairs and security scholar, and a non-resident research fellow at the Council on International Policy, says that OCAO representatives are actually representatives of the United Front Work Department (UFWD)—the primary foreign interference tool of the Chinese regime.

“Now the court has concluded that OCAO has engaged in ‘acts of espionage.’ This means OCAO/UFWD representatives in Canada could be engaging in threat activities in Canada while enjoying diplomatic protections,” said Singh in a series of tweets on Feb. 23.
“The UFWD is a key component of the ‘United Front System’ that targets people outside Canada. It looks to subvert open systems to further Party interests. And it targets innocent overseas Chinese who simply want to live their lives in peace.”
Singh added that the UFWD doesn’t just target the Chinese diaspora.

“It leverages a massive system which punishes people who speak out about the Party or China in a 'negative' way and rewards those who praise it,” he said.

In an interview with the National Post, Charles Burton, senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute who specializes in China affairs, says he hopes the ruling by Rochester sets a “terrific precedent.”

He said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and RCMP have both advised the federal government about the interference operations conducted by such Chinese organizations. However, politicians tend to suppress the information for fear it will affect the trade between the two countries.