Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains isn’t saying whether Canada will look to follow the U.K.’s decision to allow Huawei into non-core parts of its 5G networks.
Officials in the U.K. announced on Tuesday morning that they will allow the Chinese telecom giant to build some parts of their new spectrum but would bar it from working on “sensitive parts” of the infrastructure network. That comes despite warnings from the U.S. that the Chinese firm poses a spying risk and that it might not share intelligence with countries that decide to use its equipment in their development of 5G networks.
Canada is now the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that has not made up its mind on whether to use Huawei in 5G development and Bains offered no insight when pressed by reporters on Tuesday as to when that decision — in the works for more than a year — could come.
“We have not made a determination at this moment,” said Bains, who was then asked why it was taking so long to make the decision.
“We’re just being very thoughtful and very deliberate. We want to do our appropriate due diligence to make a decision that is in the best interests of Canadians, and we want to make sure that we go about it in the appropriate manner.”
The federal government launched a review in fall 2018 into whether Huawei poses a security risk.
But it has repeatedly delayed its timeline for announcing the results of that review, initially saying in May of last year it would come before the fall election but then in July 2019 saying the decision would not be made until after the election.
Since October though, there has been no indication of where the government is at and when a decision will come.
Bains said on Tuesday that the government is continuing to talk with its allies to understand the positions they are taking but would not say whether the U.K.’s path was one the Liberal government is considering.
“They’re an ally, and we’re engaged with them. We’re speaking with them, so of course we’re looking at what decisions they’ve made and how they plan to implement those decisions,” he said.
“But we’re not going to make a decision based on one particular jurisdiction, we’re going to look at what’s in Canadians interests.”
Until Tuesday, the U.K. was the last member of the Five Eyes apart from Canada that had not yet formally announced a decision on Huawei.
The U.S. has urged allies not to use parts from the company, citing Chinese laws requiring Chinese companies to spy for the government if asked to do so.
Huawei Canada has insisted it would refuse such a request and that its technology does not pose a threat.
Still, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand have all implemented bans on the use of Huawei in their 5G development.
New Zealand’s national security agency warned last year that it had identified “significant national security risks” associated with using the company’s technology.
Ward Elcock, former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), says he does not think that Canada should look to the U.K. as an example of a path forward and suggested the decision to bar Huawei from core parts of its network makes it clear the U.K. sees concerns.
“The British have clearly said the Chinese are a problem, Huawei is a potential problem, we’ll try and risk manage the system. That’s essentially what they’re doing,” he said in an interview with Global News.
“Risk management is by definition admission that there’s a problem and that even if you are managing the risk, there may still be problems. It doesn’t seem to me that it’s in our interests to accept that risk.”
He added that the U.K. is in a different situation than Canada for several reasons: first, because its networks are not as closely tied to the American networks as Canada’s are; and second, that a British government facing down the market-roiling impact of a hard Brexit is likely looking to limit financial shocks as much as possible.
“We’re a relatively small player so they probably can push the envelope more than we can. They have a communications system that is connected, we have a communications system which is integrated with the American system. I think that makes our problem harder than it is for the U.K.,” he said.
“They’ve just had Brexit. They would like to keep the London financial market as vibrant as it has been over past years. They hardly want to irritate the Chinese.”
But Elcock said he doesn’t expect to see a similar decision from the Canadian government any time soon.
“Unless it is going to be a pro-Chinese decision — that could come sooner — but if it’s going to be a no, my guess is it won’t come soon because of the case of the Canadians detained in China,” he said, referring to the arbitrary detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by China.
The detentions came in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in December 2018 in response to an extradition request from the U.S., with which Canada has a longstanding extradition treaty.
The U.S. has since charged Meng and her company with 23 counts of skirting sanctions on Iran and corporate fraud.
Elcock says he thinks it’s clear what could happen to them if Canada were to issue a decision on Huawei that the Chinese government doesn’t like.
“I don’t think there’s not much doubt that, were we to allow Huawei not to compete in the 5G system, the reaction from China would not be positive.”