Death threats against Chinese Canadian who spoke out on Uyghur genocide claims must be investigated, say B.C. community leaders

RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said the service is aware of “foreign actor interference activity in Canada, from China and other foreign states” but would not go into details.

VANCOUVER — A group of prominent Chinese Canadians who last week demanded the resignation of an adviser to British Columbia Premier, John Horgan, say one of their members has since received death threats.

The organization, Concern Group of Chinese Canadians on CCP Human Rights Violation, had sent two letters to Horgan over Bill Yee’s appointment to the Chinese-Canadian Community Advisory Committee and demanding his removal. Two days after the second letter, one of the 13 signatories received a cryptic message.

“A death threat text message was received,” explained group spokesperson Thekla Lit in a video news conference Wednesday morning. The text read, “Wanna kill u. I am going to kill u …”

The organization penned the letter demanding Yee’s resignation after he called credible claims of genocide in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region “lies” during a Chinese-language radio interview with a Toronto Station. Yee also accused Canadian politicians of ulterior motives for speaking out about the situation in Xinjiang.

After the uproar Yee’s comments sparked, he chose not to seek another term on the committee, according to B.C. Minister of State for Trade George Chow.

Now, Lit’s organization is demanding the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and the Attorney General ensure the threat is investigated fully.

“The incident does not only concern (the) personal safety of Chinese Canadians but could be part of a larger operation to suppress voices critical of a foreign oppressive regime on Canadian soil,” Lit said, stopping short of naming China specifically. “Current policies are totally inadequate to protect citizen activists from threats.”

Lit would not divulge which of the 13 signatories on the open letter, a group including religious leaders and journalists, received the threat or in what municipality they live.

Police traced the call and spoke to the person associated with the number, who initially denied sending the text. They then admitted to police later they had done so after placing another call to the person who received the threat, according to Lit.

This time, the caller told police they had meant to contact their cousin, whose phone number is one digit off from the number that received the threat.

But, Lit said, that’s when the story became more bizarre.

The second call from the threatening number was made while police were talking to the person associated with it, she said. Lit said this suggests more than one person was involved with the calls.

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor at Carleton University who specialized in international affairs, said critics of the CCP have received threats in Canada in the past.

Carvin pointed to the case of Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush, who was harassed and threatened for speaking up for Uyghur rights in 2019.

“We have seen this alleged co-ordinated activity before, so this does not surprise me,” Carvin said, stressing she wasn’t familiar with the details of the more recent case. “There have been instances that have been extremely suspicious before.”

She said “anyone who is paying attention” has seen a dramatic increase in reported attempts to intimidate critics of the CCP inside Canada and around the world.

The increase seems to have started around the time of the Hong Kong protests in 2019 and has picked up more steam since allegations of genocide in Xinjiang started, she said.

Canada is not “doing much” to stop attempts to intimidate critics of foreign regimes, she charged.

A lot of such activity happens at the local level, raising concerns law enforcement has a “fragmented” response to it, she said. Local police may not have the intelligence or background on the issue and brush such instances off as community infighting or personal vendettas.

RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said the service is aware of “foreign actor interference activity in Canada, from China and other foreign states” but would not go into details.

“The RCMP has a multidisciplinary team in place dedicated to foreign actor interference and the identification of criminality,” Percival said in a statement. “In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, the RCMP keeps Canada safe by responding to these reports of intimidation.”

China’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports