Why Chinese interference is an everyday problem for many Canadians: ‘They brainwash people’

Dan Hao Chinese interference
Click to play video: 'Chinese Canadians targeted by Chinese Communist Party'
Chinese Canadians targeted by Chinese Communist Party
WATCH: Chinese Canadians targeted by Chinese Communist Party – Apr 4, 2023

Dan Hao was once a wealthy entrepreneur in China. Now, he’s in self-imposed exile in Vancouver working as a contractor — with an international warrant out for his arrest.

Hao fled to Vancouver in 2019 after, he says, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forcibly took over the securities brokerage firm he was running. In the years since, Hao has become a vocal protester of the CCP and is now the leader of the Vancouver branch of the Democratic Party of China — activities, he says, that have made him and his group the target of harassment campaigns.

He and other group members have received threatening phone calls, had family members visited in China and believe their activities in Canada are being monitored by Chinese agents. While Hao’s case is an extreme example, it’s a similar story for many ex-China residents now living in Canada, who say the current spotlight on foreign interference has been a long time coming.

Chinese interference Dan Hao
Dan Hao, from Shanghai, says he was forced to leave China after falling foul of the Chinese Communist Party. Supplied

Global News has spent weeks speaking to those who have escaped China for Canada, who say the CCP’s influence extends beyond its country’s borders. Some are protesters who are vocal about China’s mistreatment of minority groups; others are not involved in activism and do not know why they’ve been targeted, other than for fleeing China.

Fear and paranoia abound in these communities. Many did not want to be named for fear of repercussions for their families still living in China. Those who agreed to speak publicly did so predominantly because of the current spotlight on Chinese interference, believing there would be strength in their numbers.


Many of these stories are difficult to corroborate because targets of interference are often too scared to hold onto evidence of harassment. Incidents are also rarely referred to the RCMP, leaving Canadian authorities with an enforcement gap and a crucial lack of concrete examples that could effect change.

Click to play video: 'Chinese Canadians urge feds to look into the depth, danger of China’s meddling'
Chinese Canadians urge feds to look into the depth, danger of China’s meddling

But through talking to those who say they have experienced intimidation, patterns become clear — families are often used as blackmail for their involvement in protest activities abroad, information about activities in Canada is somehow fed back to Chinese authorities, and some receive threatening phone calls in Mandarin or phone calls asking for personal information or addresses.

Targets are most commonly Canadian members of what China often refers to as the Five Poisons: Tibetans, pro-democracy advocates, Uyghur Muslims, the Falun Gong spiritual group, and the Taiwanese.

I was one of the few people who exposed the persecution in China. And I think that was why I got harassed,” says Falun Gong practitioner Michelle Zhang.

“My husband’s car was broken. Someone dumped human feces everywhere on my balcony … but the truth of the persecution must be known.”

‘I’m very, very angry’

Speaking through a translator, Hao recounts his experiences in China with unconcealed bitterness.

“I’m very, very angry,” he says through a translator, recounting the downfall of his career.

During a high-flying career as an entrepreneur, Hao purchased a securities brokerage in Vietnam in 2016, which soon attracted the attention of the Chinese government.

Hao says the Chinese ambassador to Vietnam approached him in 2018 with two options: a state-run company could buy 20 per cent of the brokerage in secret; or they could buy 51 per cent of the shares and publicly take the company over.

When he refused both offers, Hao says the government launched a smear campaign against him, stating he was running a peer-to-peer payment scam. The state-run company bought majority shares in Hao’s firm — he says his signature was forged on the sale documents, which were provided to Global News — and publicly claimed Hao had run off with 1.4 billion yuan (about C$233 million). Hao says his shares in the firm, and the rest of his assets and companies in China were frozen.

Hao says his family in China has been visited and pressured to try to persuade him to stop protesting the CCP in Canada. Supplied

After he hired a Vietnamese lawyer and threatened to sue his former company, he says, an Interpol Red Notice was issued for his arrest, claiming he was “financing fraud.” A Red Notice is a request to international law enforcement to locate and provisionally arrest someone, pending extradition or similar legal action. Global News has viewed the notice but has been unable to confirm the details around its issuance, as Interpol directed questions to the issuing country — in this case, China.

Many aspects of Hao’s story are difficult to confirm. There are, however, online reports about his involvement with the business and its early success in Chinese media, as well as later reports of him running a payment scam.

Hao fled to Vancouver in 2019, where he’d sent his son to attend school. He took a job renovating houses and became involved in pro-democracy protests.

Click to play video: '‘Ridiculous’: China dismisses Canada’s allegations of election interference'
‘Ridiculous’: China dismisses Canada’s allegations of election interference

In 2021, Hao says his family in China was visited by police, who told them to “try to persuade me not to join in on the anti-China movement.”


“My parents’ and sister’s house is now prohibited to sell and their bank accounts have been frozen,” he says. In China, real estate must be sold through the government.

He says unknown members routinely show up to their protests, concealing their faces with masks, to spy on them. He believes people inside the Vancouver consulate report their actions back to China, as “when we organize demonstrations outside the consulate, people inside are using high-definition cameras.”

During a protest in 2021, a party member who was delivering food to protesters was followed and received threatening phone calls, Hao says. The member reported the incident to Burnaby RCMP and was told the number was traced to an Emily Carr University student. Global News confirmed the case file with Burnaby RCMP and tried to phone the student, but the call went unanswered. Hao says the incident was also reported to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Authorities struggle to investigate

In 2020, a coalition led by Amnesty International Canada warned that Chinese government officials and supporters of the CCP were increasingly resorting to “threats, bullying and harassment” to silence activists in Canada.

Ottawa’s failure to act on the issue had “emboldened” Chinese state actors, the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China report said.

Foreign interference in Canada’s politics and banks last week became the target of new spending in Budget 2023.

But this issue isn’t confined to Canada.

In recent months, both Australian and American security officials have sounded the alarm on the threat foreign interference poses to their countries during separate events. In New Zealand, intelligence agencies are growing more concerned about both foreign interference and malicious cyber activity ahead of its October elections.

Click to play video: 'Foreign interference in Australia is at ‘unprecedented’ levels. What can Canada learn?'
Foreign interference in Australia is at ‘unprecedented’ levels. What can Canada learn?

It comes as agencies struggle to effectively investigate harassment and intimidation campaigns, as those who have been targeted are often reluctant to speak up.

The RCMP announced on Nov. 22, 2022, that it was investigating “undeclared ‘police service stations’ believed to be operating on behalf of the People’s Republic of China.”

At the time, the RCMP said it wanted to speak to victims and anyone with information on the police stations, but two sources familiar with the investigations said few had come forward.

An RCMP spokesperson declined to comment on most of the questions sent by Global News, but said: “The RCMP is aware of reports of activities that are specifically targeting the Chinese diaspora in Canada and is investigating to determine any criminality related to this matter.”

Other agencies seem to struggle to determine definitive links between the CCP and racially charged smear campaigns. In 2019, Toronto police launched an investigation into a barrage of online abuse directed at Chemi Lhamo, the new student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. The messages were aimed at Lhamo’s Tibetan heritage.

Over the course of a month, Global News asked Toronto police 10 times for the outcome of this investigation. This week, a Toronto police spokesperson said the investigation was paused because officers “did not have enough information to proceed with the investigation.”

Uyghurs are routinely targeted

Uyghur refugees or activists also appear to be targeted by intimidation campaigns.


The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang, which the Chinese government has subjected to widespread human rights abuses and mistreatment.

Several reported being “monitored” when they returned home to China. Some said they were forced to report to security or police stations in China if they did try to visit. Others say visas had been indiscriminately rejected and they weren’t allowed to return.

Turnisa Matsedik-Qira, a Uyghur Canadian activist in Vancouver, says she is regularly harassed by different Chinese people during her weekly protests outside the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver. She’s been spit on, threatened while with her two young children, and verbally abused. When she tries to take pictures or videos of the people, they run away, she says.

She says she’s also received a number of threatening phone calls telling her to stop protesting. In August 2021, she received a call from someone who identified themselves as Chinese police, telling her that her brother had been killed. He’d been taken to an internment camp, Matsedik-Qira recalls, but was just 39 and “so healthy.” She finds it strange that the call informing her of her brother’s death came from police, and not her family.

Click to play video: 'Uyghur activist describes family’s disappearance'
Uyghur activist describes family’s disappearance

Prominent Uyghur activist Mehmet Tohti received a similar call from Chinese authorities in January, telling him his mother and two sisters had been killed and that his uncle was in hospital.

One Uyghur man living in Toronto, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation against his family in China, said he believes the Chinese government has forced his family to denounce him.

The man moved to Canada to study in 2004 because he was feeling “uncomfortable” in China. Two of his relatives had been taken into internment camps in Xinjiang. One of them had died.

The man said he visited China every couple of years, until 2015, when his family “all of a sudden cut me off.” He believes the Chinese government monitored their phone calls and had pressured his family to denounce him.

“They said that if I talk to them they will be in danger. They’re demonizing us for living in Canada. For them, we’re spies, terrorists, whatever.

“They brainwash people like that.”

The man returned to China in 2017 to try to see his family and said he was detained and questioned upon disembarking the plane. When he arrived at his family home, his mother told him to immediately report to the local police.

“They asked all these questions about what I do, when I left China. They let me go and told me, ‘Do not talk to people on the street, do not say what’s happening outside the country.’”

His mother believes she is under surveillance, he said, so he could not ask her any questions about why she cut him off or about what had happened. After returning to Canada, he had not spoken to her since.

“It’s so sad. … We are not bad people. How do I explain to my kids that because of me they’re demonized?

“They ask why their classmates can visit their grandmother, why can’t we? What did we do? We did nothing, we go to school, we work, we live a simple life, what did we do to deserve this? Even after leaving … it’s like I’m tied by an invisible rope by those people over there.”

‘I believe that good will be rewarded’

Global News sent questions to China’s consulate-general in Vancouver and the embassy in China about the intimidation allegations, but did not hear back.

“Almost all the people around me, their families in China are being threatened. They say we know what you’re doing in Canada, you need to stop those activities. A lot of members get scared and walk away,” says Hugh Yu, who leads the Democratic Party of China’s Toronto branch.


Yu’s family in China has been visited by Chinese officials, he says. He believes his protests in front of the Toronto Chinese Consulate in support of Hong Kong have led him to be “watched.” He does not know how else certain information about his activism would be fed back to China.

Michelle Zhang, a Falun Gong practitioner, believes she’s been targeted several times for speaking publicly about her family’s plight.

Michelle Zhang feels the same way. She says a window of her car was broken and human feces were smeared across her balcony at her home in Vancouver after she began highlighting the plight of her family.

Zhang’s brother-in-law was killed in an internment camp in 2000 in Shandong province after being arrested for his involvement in Falun Gong, a spiritual group based around meditation that China banned more than two decades ago. Police claimed he had taken his own life but Zhang and her family rejected that, as Falun Gong explicitly forbids suicide.

Zhang’s sister and her husband, pictured in Qingdao.

Following her husband’s death, her sister began distributing information to the public about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. In 2001, Zhang recorded a phone call from her sister telling her about the persecution she and her husband had faced. Horrified, Zhang began protesting outside the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver. Her sister went into hiding shortly after. Zhang says she kept in contact for two or three months but has not been heard from since.

Zhang, who is also a practitioner, suspects her beliefs have also made her a target. About two decades ago, while she was living in Vancouver with her husband, someone smashed in her car window. Several months later, she smelled a “terrible odour” coming from her balcony. It was human feces.

“When the window of the car was broken, I didn’t really think much. I thought it was probably some bad guy who did that. And then, I suddenly found all the human feces everywhere on the balcony. That was very, very weird. I had no enemies in that city.”

Zhang’s sister has not been heard from for about two decades. Supplied

After splitting up with her husband — Zhang says he believed the CCP’s narrative about Falun Gong being “dangerous” — Zhang moved with her two children to Toronto. There, she says, her home was approached by a man with a gun while she had left her children at home with a babysitter.

In the years since, Zhang says she has been monitored by members of the Chinese diaspora at her daughter’s school, has received “strange texts and phone calls” in Chinese, and believes her phone has been tapped.

“I don’t feel that much pain anymore because I’ve been through a lot. It’s just many years of crying every day and now I understand everything,” Zhang says.

“And I believe that good will be rewarded and bad will be punished in the end.”