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Federal government under fire for Canada’s Huawei ties following arrest in Vancouver

Federal government under fire for Canada’s Huawei ties following arrest in Vancouver
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VANCOUVER—The federal government is facing harsher criticism for Canada’s continued involvement with China’s Huawei Technologies after the chief financial officer of the controversial telecom was arrested in Vancouver on Saturday.

Canada’s Justice Department says the United States is seeking Wanzhou Meng’s extradition but is not providing further details about the case because of a court-ordered publication ban.

Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng was arrested in B.C. on Saturday, prompting renewed calls from critics and experts for caution in relations between Canada and the Chinese telecommunications company.  (huawei.com)

Meng, who is also Huawei’s deputy chairwoman on the board, is currently in custody, according to Vancouver Supreme Court records. The court will proceed with her bail hearing Friday morning.

The Chinese telecommunications giant is currently in partnership with leading Canadian universities across the country as well as companies such as Telus, with whom it is developing interconnected 5G networks in Canada.

Matthew Dubé, New Democrat MP and critic for public safety and emergency preparedness, told StarMetro the opposition has heard concerns from Canada’s allies.

“The big challenge that we face (is) that there’s a lot of questions that remain unanswered ... The ‘just trust us’ line that we’ve been getting ... is not necessarily helpful,” Dubé said.

Both the United States and Australia have banned the company from participating in the construction of 5G networks because of security concerns, and Washington has been increasing pressure on Canada, Britain and New Zealand to follow suit.

Canada is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance with the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Last month, New Zealand became the third “Five Eyes” member to ban domestic telecommunications operators from using Huawei’s equipment on national security grounds.

Dubé said even the opposition is currently in the dark about Ottawa’s response to mounting criticism from allies, experts and the general public regarding its ongoing silence.

“We’ve heard assurances — but blind assurances — from the minister of public safety and the prime minister. And I think that, ultimately, it’s incumbent on them to provide the proper assurances — whether that has to be done privately for reasons of national security — to parliamentarians and hopefully to the public as well,” Dubé said.

“This is critical infrastructure, and I think we need to, obviously, adjust ourselves accordingly.”

Dubé noted that just this week, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency David Vigneault told members of the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto that he considers espionage and foreign influence to represent the greatest threat to Canadian national interests.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday his office got “a few days’ notice that this was in the works,” referring to Meng’s arrest, but he emphasized the actions of law-enforcement officials are independent from politics.

“We are a country of an independent judiciary, and the appropriate authorities took the decisions in this case without any political involvement or interference.”

“What this indicates is that the U.S. government thinks it has a particularly strong case against this individual who is involved in the movement of goods, the alleged sale of goods,” said Christopher Parsons, a cybersecurity expert with Citizen Lab in the Munk School at the University of Toronto.

The development of interconnected 5G technology is very costly, so “there are economic reasons that Huawei has been attractive” to Canadian companies and universities, according to Parsons.

“Equally concerning is Huawei very helpfully helps facilitate research amongst Canadian universities. But as part of that, amongst certain universities, it’s meant that Huawei subsequently obtains the patents that are realized,” he said.

This might mean in years to come, China could become a powerful arbiter of which countries can obtain access to networks and technologies.

Last month, the Weekend Australian published an article citing secret intelligence reports showing Huawei officials were pressured at some point in the past two years to provide password and network details to infiltrate a foreign system.

At that time, the report that working with Huawei is a grave “mistake.”

In 2017, Huawei announced a $3-million three-year commitment with the University of British Columbia to support research in advanced communications. In September, the company sealed a new five-year agreement to extend its partnership with the University of Toronto — after already providing more than $3.5 million in research funding to the university.

A government review is underway to assess “cyber threats and risks” as the government “anticipates the implementation of 5G infrastructure in Canada,” according to a statement on the website of the federal Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness said it could not comment on specific companies in the context of the review.

Dubé said he hopes the current 5G review “takes place as quickly as possible.”
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