Calls in security circles for Canada to prevent Chinese telecom giant Huawei from getting involved in 5G network technology have increased, with current American officials and former Canadian security officials weighing in.
Peter MacKay, a former Canadian minister of defence, said during CTV’s Question Period that China is known to be “constantly hacking our system,” and Canada should be concerned about the cyber threat posed by Huawei.
“It isn’t the traditional threat that many people think about, where it’s coming across the border, through the air, or through the water, but this cyber threat affects our critical infrastructure,” MacKay said. “It also threatens future technology. … We have to be concerned and protect ourselves.”
The 5G network is the next evolution in wireless technology. Both Australia and the United States have already banned Huawei from working on their 5G networks.
Richard Fadden, the former head of the Canadian Intelligence Security Service, also advised in the same CTV program that Canada should stay away from Huawei.
“I think the risk is too great,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake and we should say no.”
Earlier this month, American Senators Marco Rubio (Republican) and Mark Warner (Democrat), both members of the U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence, wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada should ban Huawei from its 5G networks.
“We write with grave concerns about the possibility that Canada might include Huawei Technologies or any other Chinese state-directed telecommunications company in its fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications network infrastructure,” the senators wrote in a letter first obtained by the Globe and Mail.
“As you are aware, Huawei is not a normal private-sector company. There is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party—and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion,’ is no exception.”
This is not the first time American politicians have publicly voiced concern about Canada’s dealings with China in recent years. Last year, the head of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee urged Canada to be “more vigilant” as Ottawa gave approval for a Chinese company to buy Vancouver-based Norsat International Inc., a company that sells satellite technology to the U.S. military and NATO.
Members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, have also reportedly warned Canada about the risks of Huawei.
Trudeau has said he will consult Canadian public servants, and will not let “politics slip into” his government’s decision on Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks.
“It’s very easy in discussions like this to let politics slip into decisions and positioning like that, and as I’ve been saying for more than three years, we try to base our decisions on evidence and data. And that means listening to the experts and trusting them,” he told the Globe.
The Liberal government also faced demands to shut out Huawei from the next generation of wireless technology from the opposition Conservative Party during the parliamentary session on Oct. 15.
“It is very clear now that Huawei is a threat to our national telecommunications infrastructure,” Pierre Paul-Hus, the Conservative’s public safety and emergency preparedness critic, said in Parliament.
“The United States and Australia have banned this company from their territory and two senior senators, representing the two political parties of the U.S. Senate, have written to the prime minister to try to make him understand the importance of this threat. Will the prime minister give the order today to ban Huawei?”
In response, David Lametti, parliamentary secretary to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, said “we have procedures in place with our security agencies to conduct reviews in such circumstances. We will rely on the opinions of our security agencies and experts.”
Huawei was founded by a retired officer in the People’s Liberation Army of China. Heads of six major U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and NSA, warned last February that Americans should not buy phones made by Huawei and the other Chinese telecom giant, ZTE.
Former heads of CSIS, including Fadden, have also warned about the threats posed by Huawei to Canada’s national security.