Joe Clemente is used to being the only driver on the road.
He lives in a quiet rural community on Salt Spring Island, B.C., nestled between Vancouver and Victoria.
But one afternoon in March 2018, Clemente’s commute took a strange turn.
He spotted around 50 men and women marching down the side of his country road wearing military uniforms.
“I actually couldn’t believe it and I’m glad I had my camera,” Clemente said.
As he drove past the peculiar procession, he recorded a video, which he later uploaded to his YouTube channel.
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At first, it received a few hundred views and some comments from conspiracy theorists.
But a couple of years later, in June 2020, Clemente’s video also caught the attention of the RCMP, as part of their investigation into an unsolved murder.
“This case has to rank as one of the most atypical and strange,” said RCMP Sgt. Frank Jang. “An investigation that’s shrouded in mystery.”
On episode five of China Rising, we’ll investigate the mysterious murder of a 41-year-old Chinese woman, Bo Fan, who was found brutally beaten to death in Surrey, B.C., on June 17, 2020, not far from where her company had just hosted an event.
The murder is raising questions about Fan’s employer, a secretive self-improvement organization from China called Create Abundance International, also known as Golden Touch.
One week after Bo Fan’s murder, police held a press conference and revealed that she was a Chinese citizen who had moved from China to Canada in February 2019. She lived in the Grandview Heights neighbourhood in Surrey and worked for Golden Touch.
Beyond that, police knew very little about her.
Golden Touch and its leaders own several multi-million-dollar properties in B.C., including a seaside resort on Salt Spring Island, just down the road from where Clemente recorded his video in 2018.
The company’s website and promotional materials describe it as a self-improvement organization, which promotes spiritual and financial prosperity.
Golden Touch’s promotional videos show the company hosting various large events, including spiritual seminars. The videos show dozens of men and women packed into a conference room listening to a presenter speaking on stage. Some in the audience are seen weeping and holding hands. Others are wearing blindfolds, dancing and waving their hands in the air.
According to the company’s website, some of the seminars and classes cost upwards of $10,000.
Golden Touch first launched in China around 20 years ago and later opened dozens of centres around the world.
But the company appears to have recently run into legal trouble in China, facing allegations of fraud. In 2017, a Chinese court found Golden Touch was involved in dozens of pyramid schemes across China.
Chinese authorities likened the group to a cult and said its founder and leader, Zhang Xinyue, was seen by some of her followers as a god-like figure.
Zhang and her husband moved themselves and their company to British Columbia around 2014 and set up shop in Canada.
In 2016, the couple were named in the Panama Papers, a leak of millions of financial and legal records, which revealed how scores of wealthy individuals maintained secretive offshore bank accounts. The Panama Papers revealed that Zhang and her husband were connected to a company in the Bahamas called GT Global Corporation.
But instead of raising red flags with authorities, the couple and their company appear to have thrived in B.C. By 2016, Golden Touch was hosting large events with local community groups and political leaders in the Vancouver area.
Zhang published a book with the help of a Vancouver publisher, which was translated into English. It’s called Create Abundance and it outlines her philosophy.
But after the murder of Bo Fan, the organization was suddenly cast in a negative light. Sgt. Jang says they’ve found no evidence to implicate Golden Touch in her attack, but they believe her connection to the group is important.
“We haven’t spoken to a lot of people associated to this group,” Jang said. “You have a 41-year-old woman who has been in Canada for about a year, a foreign national from China connected to this group with quite a storied past. It seems quite bizarre.”
Global News made numerous attempts to contact a representative from Golden Touch but received no response.
However, members’ social media posts appear to show the company hosting a boot-camp-style training program on Salt Spring Island. Dozens of participants wearing military uniforms appear to engage in martial arts and weapons training, using axes, batons and even firearms.
The social media posts show them training and posing with numerous guns, including models that are restricted and — if functional — even prohibited in Canada.
“It is not acceptable in Canada in 2021 for groups to organize themselves in camouflage outfits with weapons, prohibited or not, trying to operate in secret,” said former CSIS director Richard Fadden.
Police sources told Global News the RCMP is investigating the group’s financial activities and where its members sourced their guns.
B.C. is considered by organized crime experts around the world to be a hotbed for organized crime and money laundering.
On episode five we’ll also investigate the so-called “Vancouver model” of organized crime and its impact on Canadians, from the opioid drug crisis to soaring housing prices.
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