Evidence of meeting #18 for Canada-China Relations in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Vigneault  Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Brenda Lucki  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Shelly Bruce  Chief, Communications Security Establishment
John Ossowski  President, Canada Border Services Agency
Rob Stewart  Deputy Minister, Public Safety Canada
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Marie-France Lafleur
Holly Porteous  Committee Researcher

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Geoff Regan

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 18 of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study of Canada-China relations.

This is a hybrid meeting, pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on January 25, 2021.

Just before we get to our witnesses, may I suggest that we set aside the last 15 minutes of today's meeting to discuss the subcommittee report and the work plan regarding the national security dimensions of the Canada-China relations? Does that sound okay?

I'd now like to welcome the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, as well as Rob Stewart, deputy minister; Brenda Lucki, commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; John Ossowski, president of the Canada Border Services Agency; David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service; and Shelly Bruce, chief of the Communications Security Establishment.

Please forgive me if I have mispronounced anyone's name.

Thank you all for being here this evening.

Minister, please proceed with your opening remarks.

February 25th, 2021 / 6:35 p.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

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—

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

Respectfully, the minister is over seven minutes, and I do want to make sure we have the time we need for questions. I would be happy if there is unanimous consent to allow the minister to continue in the opening statement, provided that he is prepared to commit to staying through two full rounds of questions.

Otherwise, if he really has to limit his time to an hour, then we need to stop the opening statement and proceed to questions.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

I have a point of order, Chair.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Geoff Regan

Go ahead, Mr. Fragiskatos.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

I don't think that anything out of the ordinary has happened. We've heard from witnesses before who have taken roughly the same amount of time without—

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

No, there is a five-minute time limit set.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Geoff Regan

Order. One point of order at a time, Mr. Genuis, please.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

It's the chair's prerogative, of course, as to the length of time given to witnesses to make opening statements. I'd leave it to you, Chair, to make a determination, but I know that there have been witnesses in the past who have spoken for longer than five minutes, and my Conservative colleague has never intervened.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Geoff Regan

Thank you, both.

I would ask the minister, then, to come to his conclusion.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

As I was saying, Canada already has a high level of cybersecurity for our 3G and 4G networks, thanks in large part to the government's security review program for Canadian telecommunication networks, which is run by the Communications Security Establishment as represented by its director here today.

Mr. Chair, I'll conclude my remarks in the interests of the committee's time. I thank you for the opportunity to be here before you. I look forward to your questions, and we'll do our best to answer them fulsomely.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Geoff Regan

Thank you very much.

We will now begin our first round.

Mr. Paul-Hus, go ahead for six minutes.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon, Minister and senior officials. I am happy to see you again.

I would obviously like to talk about China. You know that China has a plan for the 21st century. There is talk of economic, technological and military dominance. Our allies also have plans and laws, but Canada does not.

You voted against the motion moved by Mr. Chong asking the government to come up with a robust plan to combat China's interference in Canada.

Considering the urgency of the situation, why did you vote against the motion?

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you very much.

To be very clear, we see foreign interference from any country as contrary to Canadian interests. We are taking very strong action in regard to it.

I'd remind the member of the document that I sent him back in December, which clearly outlined the various things that our government is undertaking to prevent and to mitigate the impacts of foreign interference. I think we've been very clear in calling it out as unacceptable in the actions that were taken.

I'm joined by the director of CSIS, who also, I think, has made very clear the position of the agency with respect to foreign interference from any country and the steps that are being taken to countermand it.

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you.

You say you were clear, but you did not mention Huawei in your document from December. You started talking about this a bit in your remarks, but you had to stop.

We are waiting for a response on Huawei, but we have still not received it. This has been dragging on for two years. You started talking about 3G or 4G networks. We are specifically talking about the 5G network, knowing that the technology is different.

Can we have a firm and clear decision now? Our motion requested a 30-day time frame, but we have gone well beyond that.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

To be very clear, our government will ensure that Canadian networks are kept safe and secure. We will never compromise the security of Canadian interests on something as important as 5G. Obviously, I won't be talking about a specific company. Our work is not relevant to a specific company; rather, it is to ensure that we take the steps necessary to protect all Canadian interests with respect to the decisions around 5G.

I want to be really clear. We have been unequivocal, and been very clear, that [Inaudible—Editor] certain.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

It's not clear, Mr. Chair.

You say that 5G is important, but you don't want to talk about a specific company. However, we know full well that Huawei is problematic; that's been confirmed by all of our Five Eyes partners. Reports from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also confirm this. Bell and TELUS have made a decision to no longer do business with Huawei.

Why is Canada waiting to confirm that the government will ban Huawei?

I would like to ask a second question. The federal government recently contributed $4.8 million in public funding to a partnership between universities and Huawei. How could you let that happen?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Notwithstanding that we do provide support for research in our universities, just to be very clear, we work very collaboratively with our Five Eyes partners. I meet with them and discuss, on a regular basis, the importance of maintaining the integrity and security of our 5G networks going forward. We are very closely aligned to the interests. We will act in Canada's and Canadians' interests. We have never and will never compromise the security of Canadian interests or our networks.

That work is ongoing. There is important work taking place. Our officials are fully engaged in it.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Minister, you know that Huawei is a problem. We all know that it's a problem. That has been confirmed. Huawei even developed facial recognition technology to identify Uighurs. That company is helping the Chinese communist regime find Uighurs, who are then sent to detention camps. It makes no sense.

How can Canadian universities be led to believe it's a good thing to do business with Huawei when we know full well that their intentions are negative when it comes to Canada?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I want to assure you, my friend, that at all times I and our national security intelligence agencies look out for the specific and very important concerns and considerations of Canadians' security. We will not compromise it. We work very closely with the academic community, with industry and with our Five Eyes partners. We will always be vigilant and protective of Canadian interests.

With respect, I might suggest to you that although I understand your focus on a particular company, the issue is broader than that. We are making sure we do all of the things necessary to protect Canadian interests.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

We are talking about a specific business because Huawei is a problem for Canada and for our Five Eyes partners. We are certainly not talking about Ericsson, as we know we can trust it. We are not talking about other businesses; we are talking about Huawei. Yet you are still unable to confirm that the Government of Canada will ban Huawei from our territory.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

What I can confirm with you unequivocally is that we will always take the steps necessary to protect the integrity and security of our national interests, including our networks. We remain vigilant. That work is ongoing. We have never and will never allow the compromise of the integrity of those systems. We're doing the whole job.

I appreciate your focus on various companies, but quite frankly, all decisions with respect to 5G networks in this country have to ensure that Canadian security is maintained.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Geoff Regan

Thank you. The time is up.

We'll go to Ms. Yip for six minutes.

Ms. Yip, go ahead, please.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Yip Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Welcome to all the witnesses.

Thank you, Minister, for recognizing the rise in anti-Asian racism and that it won't be tolerated.

I would like to return to the letter you provided, Minister, to all 338 members of Parliament, outlining all the steps the Government of Canada is taking to address foreign interference. I have to say that I was surprised, considering that most of the work done by our national security agencies is really behind the scenes; maybe their public communications could be more prevalent.

In your opinion, while maintaining operational discretion, why is it important to communicate these issues publicly? How does this impact Canada-China relations with respect to national security?

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you very much, Ms. Yip.

I think the question is a very important one. I will tell you that our national security intelligence agencies and law enforcement—who are ably joining me here today—do extraordinary work. At the same time, I think it's equally important.... I've listened very carefully to the important work of this committee. This committee has raised a number of really important issues that I know are also of concern to Canadians, and certainly to our fellow parliamentarians, so I thought it was entirely appropriate and necessary, largely in response to issues and concerns that have been raised in this committee, to provide all of our colleagues, and through our colleagues to provide Canadians, with a deeper understanding of the threat environment that currently exists in this country and to explain to them some of the important work that our national security intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies undertake on their behalf.

We try, we endeavour as always, to be as transparent and open as we can, although I'm sure this committee will recognize that the security...the intelligence information they gather, their investigative techniques, and so much of their work quite appropriately and necessarily can't be made public and shouldn't be made public as they undergo and carry on with the important work of keeping Canadians safe.

At the same time, I think Canadians need assurance that the government recognizes the threat environment, that we are taking appropriate and forceful action to respond to it, and that we will do everything required to protect Canadian interests. For those Canadians who may be subject to intimidation or inappropriate influence in Canadian society, we want them to know that we're here for them and that we're here to support them. If they need our help, we have the ability and the tools to respond appropriately.

That's why we were public and forthcoming about this. I think Canadians want to know that their government is looking out for their best interests, and through this letter and through all of you, I hoped to communicate that to them.