Universities Group Head Says Canadian Research Programs Cleared of China Risks

Universities Group Head Says Canadian Research Programs Cleared of China Risks
A file photo of students on a university campus. (Spiroview Inc/Shutterstock)
Andrew Chen

Canadian research programs have now been cleared of security risks posed by China, a university association executive told MPs at a House of Commons committee.

This claim follows security alerts about research partnerships with Chinese technology firms and a military academy.

"We hear about potential threats, we hear about attempts to influence and so on and we take them very, very seriously," said Chad Gaffield, chief executive officer of U15, an association representing Canada's top 15 research universities.

During his testimony at the House science committee, he further asserted that the measures implemented to mitigate security risks associated with Beijing "are working," according to Blacklock's Reporter.

When Conservative MP Ben Lobb asked if his statements could be verified and if universities had reported cases of problematic research partnerships with China, Mr. Gaffield replied, "My sense is we have been managing this really successfully."

Philip Landon, interim president of Universities Canada, an organization representing 97 institutions nationwide, said campuses shared a "restricted entities list" of suspected foreign agents.

"When the restricted entities list, the named organization list and the sensitive research in technology area list merge, that federal funding would not be made available to researchers who are applying for that," he told a House committee.

Some China watchers however have been skeptical about Canadian universities' vigilance when it comes to the Chinese regime.

"Canadian universities and the federal government are committed to doing everything possible to combat theft of intellectual property by China. Everything short of actually preventing it," Canada's former ambassador to China David Mulroney said in a social media post in June 2022.
A Globe and Mail report from January 2023 said that Canadian universities have for years been collaborating with top Chinese army scientific institutions.

Military Ties

In May, several U15 universities announced gradual reductions in their research collaborations with Huawei over concerns about the tech giant's affiliation with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The federal government banned Huawei from participating in the development of Canada's 5G network due to security concerns.
Earlier this year, the federal government introduced stricter policies regarding funding for research involving foreign entities. It was announced that Canada's federal research granting councils would decline funding for projects associated with institutions that have ties to foreign governments, posing a national security risk.
This decision followed revelations in January that around 50 Canadian universities had engaged in collaborative research with a Chinese military scientific institution, focusing on advanced and sensitive technologies, including those related to guided missiles and eavesdropping.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has also cautioned academic institutions about the potential for research partnerships to be exploited for espionage, raising concerns that intellectual property could be accessed by foreign agents from countries with adversarial interests, such as China or Russia.

The House science committee recently heard testimony from experts that expressed a more cautious perspective regarding the readiness of Canadian institutions to address security risks linked to research partnerships with China.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, highlighted this concern during her testimony before the House science committee on Sept. 25.

"The risk for Canada is that our university scientists could be partnering with civilian scientists or engineers at any university in China, and not be aware that their research is going out the back door to the PLA," she said.

"As I've said many times, the PLA are not our friends."