In light of increased foreign interference and infiltration operations by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a new report from a House of Commons committee urges the federal government to take a tougher stance against Beijing and strengthen regulations to protect Canadian security.
The report, published May 17, was released in response to Beijing’s “increasingly assertive stance in global affairs, along with its intrusions in the domestic matters of other nations,” which have prompted many countries to reevaluate their relationship and policies toward the regime, the Special Committee on the Canada–People’s Republic of China Relationship (CACN) said in a news release.
The report offers 34 recommendations for the government to reassess its interactions with the regime on a variety of issues, including how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exploits or interferes with Canadian institutions to advance its own interests. In particular, universities and academic institutions are susceptible to such interference in their research collaborations with Chinese institutions, which calls for proactive measures to safeguard national security and intellectual property, it said.
Paul Evans, a professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, raised concerns about the issue during his testimony at the CACN meeting on May 3.
Evans pointed out that there are currently 140,000 foreign students from China registered at post-secondary institutions in Canada, that hundreds of student exchanges and training programs are established between Canadian and Chinese universities, and that hundreds of research collaborations are funded from a combination of Canadian and Chinese sources.
Some 50 Canadian universities have also been working in partnership with a Chinese military science institution, the National University of Defence Technology, located in Hunan Province, according to a Globe and Mail report in January that cited a study from a U.S.-based data security company, Strider Technologies Inc. Some of their research topics involved high-end and sensitive technologies, including those related to guided missiles and technologies facilitating eavesdropping.
In response to an outcry following the report, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne pledged to introduce new guidelines to bolster research security in Canadian institutions. A number of universities in recent months said they have terminated or will gradually phase out of their collaborations with Chinese institutions, as well as Chinese companies like Huawei.
Meanwhile, the CACN report provided further recommendations surrounding security concerns in terms of academic collaborations with the Chinese regime. In particular, it urged Ottawa to explore the possibility of issuing security clearances for key individuals in the non-profit sector, private sector, universities, and research institutions, allowing them to receive comprehensive briefings from Canada’s security and intelligence agencies so that they can take appropriate steps to protect their intellectual property.
To further mitigate risks, the committee suggests implementing a ministerial policy directive to ban federal granting councils from funding research connected with universities, entities, and researchers from China in five sensitive fields identified by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service: artificial intelligence, quantum technology, 5G, biopharma, and clean tech.
The Confucius Institute (CI), a non-governmental organization supervised by the PRC’s Ministry of Education, is another source of concern in terms of the CCP’s infiltration.
The CACN report cited Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of the United States–China Economic and Security Review Commission, who said the CI is part of the United Front Works Department, which has been described by Public Safety Canada as the Chinese regime’s primary tool of foreign interference.
“The United Front-affiliated organizations include Chinese students and scholars associations, Confucius Institutes, and professional organizations, which offer benefits and support for Chinese students on university and college campuses,” she said in testimony to the committee in April 2021. In return for the benefits, Bartholomew said students are “expected to rebut any criticism of the CCP and to encourage support for CCP’s global rise.”
“I think [the CIs] are serving as a tool on campuses, both to control the Chinese students who are there and to spread the Chinese worldview,” she added.
People demonstrate against the Toronto District School Board’s partnership with the Beijing-controlled Confucius Institute outside the TDSB on Oct. 29, 2014. (Allen Zhou/Epoch Times)
Currently, there are eight Canadian institutions that still host the CI, including the Coquitlam School District, Edmonton Public Schools, the University of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan, Seneca College, Carleton University, Dawson College, and Saint Mary’s University.
Among its 34 recommendations, committee urged Ottawa to work with provincial governments to encourage Canadian education institutions to be “fully transparent about their agreements with Confucius Institutes.”
Isaac Teo contributed to this report.