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 Prime Minister, 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 Prime Minister 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—