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Public safety minister details China’s foreign interference efforts in letter to MPs

Click to play video: 'Why CSIS believes Canada is ‘permissive target’ for China’s interference' Why CSIS believes Canada is ‘permissive target’ for China’s interference
A Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report is highlighting the threat the Chinese government poses on Canada's policy makers. As David Akin explains, CSIS believes Canada is a 'permissive target' for foreign spies – Jun 24, 2020

A letter sent to MPs by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has described China’s extensive foreign interference program in Canada, saying Beijing was using a host of covert methods to silence dissent and steal commercial secrets and sensitive technology.

Addressed to “colleagues,” the 12-page letter obtained by Global News called interference by foreign adversaries a “significant threat” to the integrity of the political system and economy, and repeatedly cited examples of China’s hostile activities in Canada.

The letter also claimed that “certain regimes” were targeting Canada with state-sponsored disinformation that aimed to create doubts about the origins of the COVID-19 virus while portraying their own responses to the pandemic as “superior.”

“Through investigations and monitoring, we continue to identify and shed light on the multiple ways foreign interference manifests itself in Canada, allowing us to be well-armed with the knowledge needed to deploy our tools to counter it,” Blair wrote.

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Blair’s office declined to comment on the letter, sent to MPs on Dec. 18 and previously reported on by National Observer.

Read more: Tory motion calling for action on Huawei, plan to combat Chinese aggression passes

The letter was a response to a motion sponsored by Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong that required the government to table a plan to combat foreign interference, specifically from China.

The motion asked the government to announce its long-awaited decision on whether to allow the Chinese telecom company Huawei into Canada’s 5G network market.

While Blair’s letter did not address Huawei, it said the government was “particularly concerned” about giving foreign adversaries control over and access to sensitive technologies, critical infrastructure and the personal data of Canadians.

After receiving the letter, Chong said in a statement it was simply a summary of government activities, did not include a “robust plan” and had not addressed the part of the motion that called on the Liberals to make a decision on Huawei.

“The Trudeau government’s failure to comply with the motion undermines democratic norms, while failing to address threats to Canada from Communist China,” Chong’s statement said.

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But the minister’s letter did provide a broad outline of how foreign adversaries are working within the country to advance their political, economic and security interests to the detriment of Canada’s, and how security agencies are responding.

The minister also singled out the countries most active in Canada, notably China, and said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had taken the “important step” last year of permitting the release of portions of a report that named China and Russia as having robust foreign interference programs in Canada.

“This was intended to raise public awareness of the threats posed by these countries,” the minister wrote.

He also cited the recent committee testimony of Scott Jones, head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, who the minister said had stated that decisions about whether to publicly out states working within Canada were difficult, but “ultimately we need to acknowledge that these countries pose a risk.”

In his testimony in December, Jones said: “When we do an attribution [of a nation interfering in Canada] it tends to get organizations to take seriously the alerts we put out.”
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Read more: Chinese vaccine company executives worked in program now targeted by Western intelligence agencies

Although Blair’s letter mentioned Russia and North Korea, it was most concerned with China’s hostile activities, including the exploitation of so-called talent programs to acquire sensitive technology and knowledge.

“In addition, foreign states, including the PRC [Peoples Republic of China], attempt to threaten and intimidate individuals around the world, including in Canada, through various state entities and non-state proxies,” Blair wrote.

Such tactics are portrayed as a fight against crime and corruption, he said.

“However, we are aware that these tactics can also be used as cover for silencing dissent, including on university campuses, pressuring political opponents and instilling general fear of state power, no matter where a person is located,” the letter said.

“The PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt is one such example.”

The Fox Hunt program aims to repatriate to China those targeted by Beijing. It has been underway in Canada since 2014, the letter said. Initially, Canada worked with Chinese officials to support such investigations but it has since clamped down.

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Click to play video: 'CSIS says foreign actors engaging in COVID-19 disinformation' CSIS says foreign actors engaging in COVID-19 disinformation
CSIS says foreign actors engaging in COVID-19 disinformation – Dec 3, 2020

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, RCMP, Communications Security Establishment, and Canada Border Services Agency were all working to counter foreign interference, the letter said, but Blair wrote that he was “unable to share operational information.”

“The government is aware of ongoing attempts by some foreign states to undermine our economy for their own benefit,” he wrote. Ottawa was applying “enhanced scrutiny” to investments by foreign investments by state-owned enterprises and private investors closely tied to foreign governments, according to Blair.

Security agencies have also been increasingly reaching out to private industry, universities and research institutions to “assist with the signs of what to look for, and who to call when they encounter it.”

“In the context of the pandemic, Canada’s security and intelligence agencies moved quickly to work with the life sciences sectors involved in Canada’s response to COVID-19 to help protect them from foreign interference activities,” the letter said.

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“Whenever malign foreign states seek to harm our communities, undermined our values or jeopardize the very institutions on which our country is built, we will take action,” Blair wrote. But he said those actions would not always be made public.

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