Falun Gong practitioner Chi Yeh

EDMONTON - Edmonton police are looking into complaints that Chinese spies are intimidating local members of a spiritual group.

Const. Stephen Camp confirmed this week the hate crimes unit has received complaints that Chinese government agents are harassing and spying on Falun Gong followers in Edmonton

"For legal reasons, we can't comment, but we are working on it," Camp said.

Falun Gong is the practice of meditation and exercises based on Buddhist and Taoist teachings, which has attracted millions of followers worldwide.

The Chinese Communist party banned it in 1999, calling it an evil cult that threatens state security.

Falun Gong supporters in Canada have for years claimed that visitors from China and Chinese diplomats in this country monitor the activities of local Falun Gong followers.

Earlier this week, former Chinese police officer Hao Fengjun defected with what he said are documents showing China maintains a network of more than 1,000 spies across Canada.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa has flatly denied the allegation.

Eight of the smuggled documents were obtained by the Epoch Times newspaper, a New York-based publication that frequently reports on sensitive China-related issues.

Cindy Gu, the paper's president for eastern Canada, said the material she has seen indicates espionage of Falun Gong followers in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto, including against Jillian Ye, a Toronto-area database consultant.

Prime Minister Paul Martin told the Commons this week he raised the issue of Chinese spying with Chinese leaders when he was in Beijing in January.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said CSIS and the RCMP are investigating.

During Friday's Question Period, McLellan said: "In relation to the alleged harassment of any individual, in fact that is a very serious matter and is one that has to be taken up by law enforcement officials."

Local Falun Gong practitioners said they have reported incidents of intimidation to city police, but nothing has been done.

There are more than 100 Falun Gong followers in Edmonton, according to Chunyan Huang, a local practitioner.

Chi Yeh and Shar Chen, both Edmontonians whose phone numbers appear on Falun Gong-related websites, said several pre-recorded messages in Chinese and English defaming Falun Gong were left on their answering machines over several weeks in February.

Yeh said he felt threatened by the messages, but neither his phone company nor city police offered to investigate.

Yeh and fellow practitioner Bradley Bussche have also handed over anti-Falun Gong propaganda to police, including a booklet that Yeh says is distributed through the Chinese consulate in Calgary. The book, titled The Truth, shows supposed cases of self-immolation, suicide and murder committed by Falun Gong followers in China.

"It is all fabricated stories and lies, unverified by third parties," said Yeh.

[...] an official at the Chinese consulate in Calgary declined comment on Friday.

Camp defended the city police department's response to complaints of harassment and spying, and said the force has the authority to act.

"It's not true that complaining to us is pointless," Camp said. "There are lots of things that can be done."

David Kilgour, MP for Edmonton-Beaumont, said he has studied the defamatory materials and believes they contravene Canadian hate laws.

But he said consular officials cannot be prosecuted under those laws because of diplomatic immunity.

"We also have a double standard for China, a valuable trading partner," said Kilgour. "It makes a mockery of our values."