I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 18 of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study of Canada-China relations.
This is a hybrid meeting, pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on January 25, 2021.
Just before we get to our witnesses, may I suggest that we set aside the last 15 minutes of today's meeting to discuss the subcommittee report and the work plan regarding the national security dimensions of the Canada-China relations? Does that sound okay?
I'd now like to welcome the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, as well as Rob Stewart, deputy minister; Brenda Lucki, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; John Ossowski, president of the Canada Border Services Agency; David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; and Shelly Bruce, chief of the Communications Security Establishment.
Please forgive me if I have mispronounced anyone's name.
Thank you all for being here this evening.
Minister, please proceed with your opening remarks.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for your kind invitation to join you here today.
I want to begin by thanking this committee for the excellent work it has been doing since it was created a year ago. We have, of course, been following very closely the work of this committee, and it has been, I think, very helpful in shedding light on the vast multitude of issues involving our relationship with China.
As the chair indicated, I am ably joined today by senior officials from within my department, and also by Ms. Shelly Bruce from the Communications Security Establishment, who I hope will be able to answer any particular questions you may have about the operations of their agencies.
As you know, Canada is home to a very large Chinese Canadian community in every part of the country, and certainly in my city. Chinese people represent a very significant and very important part of the Canadian fabric. We also recognize, of course, that China is a significant actor on global issues of importance to Canada and that it offers some economic opportunities for Canadian businesses.
I want to be very clear that none of my remarks today are intended to be directed towards Chinese Canadian citizens. In fact, I'd like to highlight the number of disturbing and very concerning reports that we've heard from across the country regarding the rise in racist and discriminatory actions directed towards people of Asian origin for no reason other than their ethnicity. This, I think every member of this committee and our government will agree, is abhorrent and wrong. It is unacceptable and it must be denounced in the strongest possible terms.
It is also important that we be very careful with the words we use in this discussion. We are talking about Canada's relationship with the government of China. When it fails to uphold its international obligations, we need, certainly, to be forceful in our response but to be clear that we are talking about the government of China.
No one, Mr. Chair, has forgotten that the Chinese government continues to arbitrarily detain Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Earlier this week, in his meeting with the , U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his government's support for the two Michaels and committed to working together with us for their release.
We know as well that foreign interference in Canada has become a sad reality for many people. In December, in a letter that I addressed to all MPs here and in the House, which was subsequently tabled in the House of Commons, I took what I think was an important step by publicly outlining the threats related to foreign interference and the critical work of the security and intelligence community in Canada.
This follows steps the took in permitting unclassified, publicly released versions of the NSICOP report to, for the very first time, specifically name countries that are particularly active in Canada, such as the government of China. As an independent review body with a broad mandate, this committee plays a very significant role in national security. Its members include both senators and members of Parliament, all of whom hold top-secret security clearances, which enables them to receive classified briefings and materials related to the conduct of the committee's work.
We will continue, Mr. Chair, to raise awareness so that Canadians, businesses and academics have the information and the tools they need to support themselves while our agencies collect information to support investigations. This is because foreign interference activities of any kind undermine our values and democratic institutions. They threaten our sovereignty, our economic prosperity, and the safety and interests of Canadians. They are unacceptable and they will not be tolerated.
We are actively and carefully monitoring the situation, including identifying new ways in which foreign interference may threaten our country. A number of organizations in my portfolio—CSIS, the RCMP and Public Safety Canada in particular—are involved in work to address foreign interference in all of the forms in which it manifests itself in Canada and around the world. Both CSIS and the RCMP apply the full measure of their mandates in investigating potential risks to Canadian interests, responding to threats, and keeping Canadians safe from harm and intimidation.
CSIS and the RCMP also have reporting mechanisms in place for anyone who would like to report a threat to national security, including foreign interference.
I want to assure the members of this committee and all Canadians that our national security and intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies remain ever vigilant in ensuring the interests of Canadians. We are prepared to act, and we are acting against threats to Canadian interests in this country from hostile activities of state actors. We will continue to work closely with our partners domestically and internationally, including the Five Eyes and other allies, on foreign interference.
While foreign interference is top of mind for my portfolio, it is by no means the only issue on the plate.
It's no secret that China is one of the main source countries of fentanyl, as well as the precursor chemicals used to make this highly potent and deadly synthetic opioid. Illegal fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs are being mixed in with and contaminating other drugs. This continues to be a major driving factor in the overdose crisis that has tragically cut so many lives short in Canada.
CBSA uses intelligence as well as a variety of detection tools, techniques and the latest in scientific technology to prevent cross-border smuggling of illicit drugs, including toxic substances like fentanyl. Over the past four years, the CBSA has made 335 seizures, totalling over 42.2 kg. In 129 of the seizures, China was listed as the source country of those drugs.
For its part, the RCMP has established an organized crime joint operation centre with CBSA and Canada Post to track, identify and take appropriate enforcement action against the importation of these illicit opioids. In 2017, we passed legislation to permit our officers, with reasonable grounds, to search international mail weighing under 30 kg. The RCMP are also working with international enforcement partners to investigate and to disrupt the illegal importation of precursor chemicals and illicit drugs to Canada. With respect to China, the RCMP, the CBSA and their counterparts have all agreed to collaborate to target fentanyl trafficking.
Let me now, if I may, briefly turn to another issue of interest to this committee. I know that 5G technology has come up in your hearings and that the Government of Canada is certainly under no illusions about the security challenges of that decision—
Thank you very much, Ms. Yip.
I think the question is a very important one. I will tell you that our national security intelligence agencies and law enforcement—who are ably joining me here today—do extraordinary work. At the same time, I think it's equally important.... I've listened very carefully to the important work of this committee. This committee has raised a number of really important issues that I know are also of concern to Canadians, and certainly to our fellow parliamentarians, so I thought it was entirely appropriate and necessary, largely in response to issues and concerns that have been raised in this committee, to provide all of our colleagues, and through our colleagues to provide Canadians, with a deeper understanding of the threat environment that currently exists in this country and to explain to them some of the important work that our national security intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies undertake on their behalf.
We try, we endeavour as always, to be as transparent and open as we can, although I'm sure this committee will recognize that the security...the intelligence information they gather, their investigative techniques, and so much of their work quite appropriately and necessarily can't be made public and shouldn't be made public as they undergo and carry on with the important work of keeping Canadians safe.
At the same time, I think Canadians need assurance that the government recognizes the threat environment, that we are taking appropriate and forceful action to respond to it, and that we will do everything required to protect Canadian interests. For those Canadians who may be subject to intimidation or inappropriate influence in Canadian society, we want them to know that we're here for them and that we're here to support them. If they need our help, we have the ability and the tools to respond appropriately.
That's why we were public and forthcoming about this. I think Canadians want to know that their government is looking out for their best interests, and through this letter and through all of you, I hoped to communicate that to them.
Thank you very much for that.
There are mechanisms, and I'm going to refer that question back over to our officials because they have set up those systems.
Let me also, if I may, take a moment, Ms. Yip, to point out that the activity of every country to influence other countries is pretty routine diplomatic activity. But when it crosses that line of trying to interfere with our democratic institutions, interfere with the lawful activities of our citizens, interfere with our elections, that's unacceptable and we need to stand forcefully to confront it, to refute it, and to mitigate it in every way possible.
I wonder if I might just quickly refer, Mr. Chair, to one of my officials to talk about the process of making that information known to authorities.
I would like to begin by saying hello to the witnesses and thanking them for joining us this evening.
Minister, in another time, we probably would have had an opportunity to come across each other in a federal-provincial conference of ministers of public safety, but that was obviously a different time, as I just said.
Thank you for joining us.
We are discussing extremely sensitive and extremely important topics today. I know that, since this meeting is public, you cannot communicate certain information to us. Perhaps you would want to confidentially send us answers to some of the questions you will be unable to answer orally today.
I would like to put three questions to you concerning the revelation that a Canadian visa application centre in Beijing was being managed by a Chinese company belonging to the Chinese municipal public security bureau.
My first question is very simple: how did we select that company?
My second question is the following: what guarantee do we have that the information gathered from people who use that visa application office—either passports or biometric data—will not be used by the government of the People's Republic of China?
My third question is: what measures must be taken so that the People's Republic of China would not exercise, through that visa application office, control over potential dissidents who would like to leave China?
We have a number of parliamentary groups, like NSICOP and NSIRA, that are able to receive information from our national security intelligence services that is confidential in nature. However, I very much appreciate your comments about the challenge in a public forum of discussing sensitive matters of security.
Your question is a very important one. We've looked very carefully at this activity. I want to provide you and Canadians with assurances that information is always handled according to our privacy laws. No application or biometric collection data is stored at the visa application centre; all databases containing personal information must, by our rules, be located in Canada. There are also safeguards in place to ensure that personal information is collected, stored and transmitted securely using hard end-to-end encryption. The visa application centres provide only administrative support to IRCC applicants.
I want to assure you that we take the privacy of Canadians very seriously. We're aware of reports that previously an error led to a data breach, but it's important to note that this was through a different VFS client government, on a separate system. I want to assure you that we have our own system, which VFS operates with rigorous safeguards in place.
If there's any more detailed response to that, I would invite the director of the CSE to provide additional insight if she has it available.
I think they can address that later. I'd suggest it's something Canadians would really want you to know.
I have a question about this $4.8-million partnership, tax dollars, between NSERC and Huawei, which you keep referring to as a company but which is of course an arm of China's communist regime.
The said that this partnership was based on “expert recommendations from...top security analysts”, but of course Canada's own security analysts advise against allowing Communist Party entities to get Canadian intellectual research. In fact, researchers say that what China's communist regime is looking for is “help from Canada in artificial intelligence, biotechnology...quantum computing, all areas that can help their military”.
Can you tell us who advised the that it's okay to partner with Huawei? Also, as the public safety minister, were you aware of this partnership that undermines Canada's public and national security? If not, why are decisions using public funds that affect public safety kept from you?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will try to move things along.
I'd like to come back to the questions I initiated. I would still like to know, how can we be sure that potential dissidents wanting to leave the People's Republic of China will not be in danger because they go through this visa application centre?
Mr. Minister, I must admit that the answers you have given us have done little to reassure me. Perhaps you cannot disclose some information, which I can understand, and perhaps you could simply say that what is troubling is the fact that it's a Chinese company. I should like to remind you that under the Hong Kong national security law, all Chinese companies are required to help guarantee the People's Republic of China's national security.
For instance, Huawei is known to have shared African Union information when it was approached to work for that organization.
We also know that news came out recently of a data leak from Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. There is cause for concern if we use a Chinese subcontractor to process the personal information of a certain number of people seeking to obtain a visa to come to Canada.
Please, Mr. Minister, can you reassure me?
Minister Blair, we have heard, as a committee, lots of evidence from individuals in Canada, mainly of Chinese descent, who have been subject to intimidation. They've tried to get some assistance, and they feel they're getting the runaround. They go to the local police, as you point out, and they are told they have to go to CSIS. They go to CSIS, and CSIS tells them to go to the local police or the RCMP, if they're the local police. There doesn't seem to be any sense that there is any single point of contact, which I think is what some of us talked about as being necessary.
In your letter to us in December, you talked about the RCMP's national security information network, with the 1-800 number. You talked about CSIS having a number or a web form application to report something, yet we were hearing constantly that people get the runaround back and forth. They don't get any satisfaction.
If these are national points of contact.... Even last week, there was the case of a Saudi national—a convention refugee who had been in Canada for over a year—who disappeared. One of his friends, who was quite worried about him, approached your department and was told to call the local police. The local police don't have any method of dealing with these kinds of incidents or circumstances.
How is it that this confusion reigns? Is there a national point of contact that ensures that these details are clear? Why is your department sending people to the local police?
I'm just going to put my timer on here so that I don't go over.
Thank you, Minister Blair, for appearing in front of our committee.
As the first Canadian of Chinese descent elected to the House of Commons from Ontario, I know first-hand what it's like to be subject to anti-Asian discrimination, and I know all members in the House and on this committee agree with all of us that anti-Asian discrimination is unacceptable.
I don't want to focus on that. Right now, I'd like to focus on the national security and intellectual property risks as well as human rights issues concerning Huawei. CSIS has indicated that China presents a threat to Canada in 5G. It has indicated in the past that it's a threat to our national security and a threat with respect to the theft of intellectual property. There's now a new dimension whereby Huawei is presenting a threat, and that is a threat to our fundamental beliefs in human rights and in the dignity of all people. It's increasingly clear that Huawei is participating in a genocide in Xinjiang province in China. The China cables published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveal that Huawei is deeply involved in rolling out technology in Xinjiang that is being used to suppress the Uighur people and perpetuate the genocide.
In addition, just two months ago, The Washington Post reported that Huawei is testing AI software that can instantly—within a millisecond—recognize Uighur minorities and alert police for their arrest. The Washington Post obtained an internal Huawei document that outlined how Huawei was working in 2018, just three years ago, with a facial recognition firm to test artificial intelligence camera systems that would instantaneously scan faces in a crowd and, using the leading cutting-edge AI out there, determine each person's sex and ethnicity. If the system detected the face of a Uighur Muslim minority, it would trigger a “Uighur alarm” and the AI system would determine whether to flag that individual for arrest by Chinese police authorities as part of their brutal crackdown. In addition, official documents last year in The New York Times revealed that in one city in China alone, that surveillance system had scanned Uighur faces half a million times in one month.
Just two months ago, as a result of these revelations, a Huawei executive, Tommy Zwicky, vice-president of communications for the company's Denmark office, abruptly resigned because of what Huawei is doing to help facilitate this genocide in Xinjiang province. He said he resigned because it became clear to him the company was failing to take seriously matters of public surveillance and human rights in Xinjiang.
My question is, are you aware of the role that Huawei is playing in this genocide in Xinjiang?
Thank you very much for what I think is a very important question.
Let me be fair for a moment. I think Canada's relationship with China is different today than it was in 2014. I think we've learned, and the activities of the Chinese government have evolved and modified significantly over time. We've stayed contemporary with that increasing threat, and I can tell you that our national security intelligence agencies, law enforcement...the government uses the Investment Canada Act quite aggressively and appropriately to protect Canadian interests.
Our decisions are based on evidence, data and a careful analysis. We follow the advice of our experts very carefully—national security intelligence agencies that keep us informed about the true nature of risk. We look at ways in which those risks can be mitigated and, where they cannot be mitigated, they are not allowed to proceed.
We have taken, I think, a very aggressive stance in doing what is right to protect Canadian interests, and it is a very well-informed and evolving assessment of the risk environment that continues to exist in this country.
We have been working really hard to keep some of the precursor chemicals and these drugs out of the country. We passed legislation when we first came into government to give the CBSA greater authority, for example, to search through mail, which was a very unfortunate, common method of importation into the country.
The RCMP is also working very collaboratively with international partners. We do that through a number of different relationships, through the cross-border crime force but also working internationally, because it's a whole global effort.
One of the largest investigations recently completed in Southeast Asia identified an organization that was responsible for literally billions and billions of dollars' worth of drugs being shipped all around the world, including to Canada, and I know the RCMP is fully engaged in those investigations.
We work very closely with not only our Five Eyes partners, but all of our international partners to deal with these things, and we're restoring the resources of the CBSA, some of the tools and technology they need in order to keep these chemicals and drugs out of the country.
Supply interdiction is the first pillar of Canada's national drug strategy, as well as demand reduction, harm reduction and prevention and treatment.
We're very mindful of that responsibility and working diligently to keep those drugs out of the country.
Thank you very much, Mr. Dubourg. I'm happy to see you again in virtual mode.
I will tell you that the Chinese government is indeed engaged in all those activities. As far as diplomatic influence is concerned, these inter-state relations are truly to be expected.
With respect to interference, as I have said publicly, Chinese government entities are interfering with Canadian democratic life. They are interfering with people in Canada using people from China, cyber threats and also people here in Canada, who are co-opted to work with the Chinese government.
It's something we are looking into. With China, but also with other countries, we must absolutely keep our guard up, take very concrete steps to protect Canadians and do it in a coordinated way with our allies.
It's the only way I believe we can protect Canadians.
Thank you, gentlemen and Ms. Lucki, for staying on, and Ms. Bruce as well.
I have a question about the dependence of Canadian universities on collaborative research or research funding from the PRC and PRC sources. There are two programs that have been.... Well, one program has changed its name. The thousand talents plan of the PRC, apparently renamed the national high-end foreign experts recruitment plan, has the Government of China involved.
My understanding is that, in 2018, CSIS began warning the universities about the dangers of research collaboration with China. We know that in the United States the FBI was doing a similar program, and charges were laid. There were indictments against American and Chinese academics for alleged fraud because they hid their participation in these plans.
I just want to know, first of all, what kind of advice you were giving the universities. What were you warning them of and what kind of program was it? Also, have you laid any charges? Have any charges been laid—I presume by the RCMP—in relation to this kind of academic work?
Thank you, Commissioner Lucki.
It is a very complex issue. We have the rule of law in Canada. We have the right of the people who are accused to have the information known to them. But when we have intelligence and are using very sensitive sources, we also have a need to protect this information. If not, we will not be able to continue to do intelligence operations in the future ourselves or to receive information from our partners.
It is a very complex issue. I would not want to leave the committee with the impression that everything has been resolved.
But under Commissioner Lucki's leadership, we have done a lot of work to push the envelope. The working group that she talked about on the operational improvement review has generated very specific ideas. We have the expertise of a former deputy minister of justice to oversee the work, and one of the leading defence attorneys with the proper clearance to review our processes and challenge both the RCMP and CSIS to go into all of the aspects, including cultural aspects, that will impede the information exchange.
I have to say this is still a work in progress. Unfortunately, more work remains to be done.
If I understand correctly, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, through Public Services and Procurement Canada, negotiated a contract with VFS Global, without involving the intelligence and security agencies to guarantee the security of the information that will be gathered on the ground in Beijing. In addition, VFS Global entered into a subcontract with the Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company.
First, what guarantee do we have that VFS Global looks at the rules on communicating information as rigorously as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada? Second, Mr. Stewart, are you aware that VFS Global is financed through a Chinese investment fund?
My impression is that the Chinese now have the process of issuing Canadian visas “all wrapped up with a bow on top”, as they say.
Does that concern you?
Mr. Chair, since we have decided to deal with the two documents together, I would just like to make a comment on the report.
The most recent comments from our Conservative colleagues led us to believe that they were submitting an additional opinion. I would like to let them know that I was disappointed with that. However, I carefully read the contents of their additional opinion and it did not surprise me. That's all I have to say, given that it is their privilege to present an additional opinion.
However, I thought we were going to submit a unanimous report, in a spirit of collegiality. Our Conservative colleagues did not clearly indicate their intention. We found it out afterwards. It's a little disappointing, but not really surprising, given that their most recent comments foreshadowed their intention. I have nothing more to add.
As for the work plan, I must say that I am quite happy today that we have a complete document to look at, unlike the last time. It seems very interesting to me. I really have no problem with the plan we have here. But I would like to make two comments.
I thought we had agreed to hear from Michel Juneau-Katsuya. Mr. Paul-Hus, who is up next, as I understand it, will be able to tell me whether I was dreaming again. I also thought that Ms. Porteous had drawn our attention to a UQAM professor who speaks French and Mandarin and is of Chinese origin, Professor Ting-Sheng Lin. I would agree with adding that witness to our work plan. However, since we would then have to remove a witness from the list, I don't know who it would be. I see the name Paul Evans, from the University of British Columbia.
I am picking Mr. Evans name at random, but could his contribution be more helpful or less helpful than Mr. Ting-Sheng Lin's?
Perhaps the analysts are in a position to enlighten us.
I'm very happy to answer, just briefly.
Look, colleagues, I could go through and nitpick based on my own preferences one way or the other in terms of the work plan. The analysts are independent experts who provide us with a work plan that balances a variety of witness suggestions. My suggestion would be that we've had a lot of in camera meetings already this year, so let's move forward.
I'm willing to put aside all of the little disagreements I might have with the work plan and to say let us just adopt what we have so that we can move forward. I put a motion on the floor to do that. It's not hijacking anything. Members are welcome to vote against it if they disagree with it, but I put forward a motion that I think allows us to move forward quickly.
In terms of saying that something is the proper purview of the subcommittee or the main committee, I mean, everything the subcommittee does comes back to the main committee. All of the decisions have to be ratified by the main committee. I'm suggesting to let us try to maximize the time in the public interest, avoid more in camera discussion and just adopt the work plan. If people don't like that, they can vote against it, but that was my suggestion.