If Canadians believe the threat of a communist superpower expired decades ago, they’re wrong. The Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics (U.S.S.R.) may be long dead, but the Chinese dragon is alive and well.
In 1970, KGB disinformation agent Yuri Bezmenov defected from the U.S.S.R. and became a Canadian citizen with the adopted name Tomas Schuman. Remarkably, the Soviet tactics he disclosed years ago are much like those used by the Chinese Communist Party today. Canada should beware.
Before his defection, Bezmenov worked with Novosti Press Agency, a KGB front that sought to undermine the West and keep its citizens propagandized through the misuse of journalism. Bezmenov worked out of the Soviet embassy in India before he made his bold escape.
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After the CIA arranged a home for Bezmenov in Canada, he was very much on his own – as was his choice. After he arrived and took the name Tomas Schuman, he was a student, worked on a farm, drove a laundry truck, became a language instructor and finally became the voice of CBC’s Russian-language broadcast to the U.S.S.R. After the Russians realized that Schuman was Bezmenov, KGB agents tried to intimidate him. He shared this tale in a 1984 interview with author G. Edward Griffin:
“They would say something like, ‘Please cross the street carefully because you know traffic is very heavy in Quebec.’ And fortunately, I know about the psychology and the logic of activity of the KGB, and I never allowed myself to be intimidated. This is the worst thing. This is what they expect: a person, a defector, to be intimidated. Once they spot that you are scared they keep on developing that line, and then, eventually, you either have to give up entirely and work for them, or they neutralize you. They would definitely stop all kinds of political activity, which they fail to do in my case because I was starting already working for (the CBC). And in response to their intimidations I said … look, this is a free country and I am as free as you are. And I also can drive very fast. And gun control is not yet established in Canada so I had a couple of good shotguns in my basement. So, you’re welcome to visit me someday with your Kalashnikov machine guns.”
Contemporary accounts in Canada sound similar. In recent years, Canadians who were Chinese or Uighur activists have testified to House of Commons committees that they face threats of violence if they keep speaking out against violations committed by China. These intimidation campaigns were apparently co-ordinated by the Chinese embassy in Ottawa and its consulates in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
The 2020 report “Harassment & Intimidation of Individuals in Canada Working on China-related Human Rights Concerns” by the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China (CCHRC) and Amnesty International documented “continuing reports of individuals in Canada being subjected to rights violations further to a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation that is often clearly linked to or backed by Chinese state authorities,” including at universities.
Cherie Wong, executive director of the Alliance Canada Hong Kong, told the coalition that harassment and intimidation ramped up after she became a vocal supporter of the protest movement in Hong Kong. Wong said she was the victim of “co-ordinated social media attacks” that included death threats and rape threats.
Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, told the coalition she also suffered phone harassment and intimidation and cyber-attacks. Hackers have made multiple phishing attempts to get into the computers of Hong Kong civil society organizations and their members within Canada.
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Fung and Wong are just two of the many individuals mentioned in the 52-page report.
Bezmenov claimed the KGB kept extensive lists of journalists, academics and elected officials. They would help promote those to whom they were friendly; the others would suffer character assassination. Remarkably, Bezmenov said that after personal intimidation failed, the Soviets successfully applied pressure to turn the prime minister and the nation’s public broadcaster against him.
China has used similar intimidation tactics against Canadian journalists in recent years, including personal threats and attacks on character.
The threat seems to be ramping up. The coalition report warned that “the situation is worsening, as Chinese actors have arguably become emboldened by the inadequate response from Canadian officials (and other governments).” Victims “face a lack of a kind of co-ordinated, comprehensive approach on the part of Canadian authorities.” Affected individuals don’t know where to turn and are afraid that reporting the incidents might make things worse.
The coalition urged the Canadian government to appoint a point person or a centralized point within the government to act as the front-line contact for people and groups facing harassment, interference and intimidation for their advocacy on human rights with regard to China.
The coalition also advised effective multilateral diplomacy on human rights issues in China. Finally, it advised an independent public inquiry or investigation into the incidents described in the report, and especially those facing the education sector and the alleged use of Chinese students by Chinese consular officials.
Lee Harding is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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