Defence Minister Bill Blair says the government is looking at whether to bring in legislation restricting who former Canadian Forces members can train or share information with that they have learned through their service.
It comes as Canada’s top soldier and a deputy minister are warning members of the Canadian Forces against working and sharing information with militaries “whose interests diverge from our own.”
“The training that our people receive, as I’ve already said, it’s among the best in the world,” Blair told reporters on his way into a meeting of the House of Commons defence committee.
“It is a significant investment we make in members of the Canadian Armed Forces. And that investment is not for sale.”
He added: “If the investigation identifies that we need to strengthen legislation, I’m prepared to take those steps.”
In a statement posted Thursday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and Deputy Minister Bill Matthews warn that recent reports have raised concerns about former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots possibly sharing their knowledge and expertise with armed forces of other nations.
“(O)ur adversaries and competitors actively and aggressively strive to enhance their own capabilities, knowledge, and expertise by harnessing Canada’s experiences and those of our allies,” the statement says.
“All Defence Team members, civilian and military, serving and retired, must be alive to this stark reality. This is real.”
The statement comes three weeks after the RCMP announced it is investigating former RCAF training Chinese fighter pilots – which also follows a report from last year that Beijing was looking to recruit pilots from NATO countries.
Blair said he cannot comment on this specific matter due to the investigation being in progress.
China has had tension with the militaries of western nations in recent years, including documented buzzings of Canadian jets and sailing through the path an American ship in the Strait of Taiwan in June.
Stephen Saideman, director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network based out of Carleton University, said China is trying to catch up with other nations on military intelligence.
“They’ve hacked intelligence records for the United States government. They’ve gotten engaged in spying and all the rest of it. This is just something you do,” he said.
“And this is something that they’re going to do because they’re trying to catch up and get as much information as they can about their adversaries.”
Thursday’s statement from Eyre and Matthews, the military’s top soldier and the top bureaucrat responsible for the defence department, said the reports serve as a sober reminder for CAF members to protect the information and skills members gain throughout their careers.
“Safeguarding this information is a cornerstone of our ability to conduct activities and operations, both at home and abroad with our allies and partners. Sensitive information and knowledge must be appropriately protected from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, transmission, disposal, or destruction,” they write.
They go on to say that it’s crucial current and former CAF members understand that even unclassified information can be sensitive and disclosing it could harm the interests of Canada and its partners.
“Unauthorized disclosure or misuse of information can have severe consequences for Canada’s national security.”
The message says the CAF and the Department of National Defence are improving their internal processes so employees have a clearer understanding of their responsibilities after leaving either organization.
— with a file from Global’s Aaron D’Andrea