The Department of National Defence is looking into reports that the Chinese government might be paying Canadian military fighter jet pilots to train Beijing’s air force.
A spokesperson confirmed the development to Global News on Friday, following multiple reports in Canadian, British and Australian media alleging that China might be offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to former Western air force members to coax them into training Chinese military pilots.
“We are aware of these reports, and we are looking into this further with federal partners,” the spokesperson said in a Friday statement.
According to a report from the BBC, up to 30 former UK military pilots are “believed to have gone to train members of China’s People’s Liberation Army.” The pilots were offered “lucrative” packages of up to CAD$350,000 for their work, according to that BBC report. And while the BBC report did not mention Canada, The Daily Mail reported that Canadians are also being approached for the task.
Canadians could find themselves facing severe consequences if they take Beijing up on its offer, though.
“The Security of Information Act applies to both current and former members, and non-compliance with the Act could result in serious consequences,” said Department of National Defence spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier.
A person found guilty of an indictable offence under the Act could be imprisoned for up to 14 years. Those found guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction can be liable to up to a year in prison or a fine of up to $2,000 — or both.
The Canadian Armed Forces is an “institution that upholds democratic principles and the rule of law,” the spokesperson said, and they expect “current and former CAF members to adhere to the values of the institution.”
“Any behaviour that could potentially harm Canadian national interests is a violation of this trust, and will be dealt with appropriately,” he added.
Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force Lt.-Gen. Eric Kenny, meanwhile, was pressed about the issue during an appearance before the House of Commons national defence committee on Tuesday, and said he’s “aware of” the reports.
“My focus is on the national security of Canada and Canadians. We take that extremely seriously,” Kenney said.
“We look at the threats every day to ensure that we’re ready to meet those today and in the future.”
Canada works “very closely” with all its partners to ensure it is undertaking “appropriate vetting” related to the security of those working within the air force, Kenney added.