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Canada’s spy agencies have held back information from Parliament’s watchdogs – Global News

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Canada’s intelligence agencies have held back information from parliamentary oversight, leading a key watchdog committee to warn its work could be “compromised” if the situation continues.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a joint House of Commons and Senate body that reviews the country’s intelligence apparatus, warned that “some organizations” have delayed or denied the committee’s requests for information.

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The committee’s right to access information is enshrined in law, but intelligence agencies “have delayed the provision of information or did not provide requested material relevant” to their reviews.

“Should this continue, the ability of the committee to fulfill its statutory mandate will be compromised,” the committee warned in recently published documents.

The statement has drawn concern from national security experts – especially given the relatively new committee has had its share of challenges since being established by the Liberals’ 2017 national security reforms.

Canada was a laggard among close security partners in providing parliamentary – public – oversight into the country’s growing national security and intelligence apparatus. NSICOP changed that, giving security-cleared parliamentarians access to intelligence and decision-makers within the intelligence community.

It’s not the first time NSICOP has raised concerns about getting access to the information required to conduct its reviews. It’s been an ongoing issue since 2018, and publicly flagged again in the committee’s 2019 and 2020 reports.

“(It) suggests that this is an ongoing problem, or at least an ongoing risk that the committee is attentive to and is trying to flag publicly as something that could endanger their mandate,” said Christopher Parsons, a researcher with Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

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While the committee has produced some critical reporting on the operations of the intelligence community, Parsons suggested a larger risk is the committee being given incomplete or selective information about intelligence operations.

That could lead to the committee either missing key details about operations or painting the intelligence community in a better light than the reality.

“If they’re not getting access to relevant documents, the reports they’re putting out … may actually not have the critical information that would allow NSICOP to assess more critically the operations” of federal intelligence agencies, Parsons said.

“So when and if they’re not getting access to documents there’s a concern that the result is it sort of jukes the reports that are coming out, such that while they are helpful, they may not tell the full story. And they may tell a story that’s more in the interests or the favour of the reviewed agencies than may be appropriate.”

In a statement, NSICOP said it has had “productive” conversations with both offices of the national security and intelligence advisor and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Those conversations “helped address significant and pressing challenges faced by the committee in accessing information,” according to Lisa-Marie Inman, the executive director of the NSICOP secretariat.

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Inman added that, in the opinion of NSICOP chair David McGuinty, “the committee enjoys a good relationship with the security and intelligence community.”

“(The relationship) is collegial, productive and mutually dedicated to strengthening accountability and effectiveness,” Inman wrote in a statement to Global News.

“Building and maintaining a relationship of trust is an ongoing effort, in particular because an appropriate relationship between a review body and those reviewed will and should always have a necessary tension, and the past four years of the committee’s operation have built the linkages and structures required to ensure that the committee is able to rigorously carry out its mandate.”

Created in 2017, NSICOP has had a rocky road in establishing itself as a central tool for transparency and accountability in the typically shadowy world of intelligence and national security.

In 2018, one of its members – former Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement – was forced to resign from the committee after finding himself in a sexting and extortion scandal. National security observers expressed concern at the time that intelligence agencies would hold back information after it was revealed a member of the committee could potentially be compromised.

The Conservative Party also decided to boycott the committee after the Liberal government withheld information on the firing of two Chinese scientists from a sensitive infectious diseases laboratory in Winnipeg.

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After Erin O’Toole’s ouster as leader, the Conservatives relented and put forward new members for the committee.

NSICOP reviews more than just organizations traditionally thought of as spy agencies – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). It’s also mandated to “follow the thread” between various departments that have national security roles, such as the Department of National Defence, the Privy Council Office and Global Affairs Canada.

By law, the committee “is entitled to have access to any information that is under the control of a department and that is related to the fulfilment of the committee’s mandate.” That includes information protected by solicitor-client privilege.

The committee submits its reports to the prime minister, and officials scrub the reports of information that could compromise national security before releasing a censored version publicly.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Russian vodka, caviar and diamonds on new Canadian sanctions list

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OTTAWA — Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly announced a fresh wave of sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime on Friday including a ban on importing Russian vodka, caviar and diamonds.

The ban on the import of certain luxury goods from Russia will tighten the net on the country’s elite and covers alcoholic drinks, fish and seafood.

Canada is also banning the export of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks to Russia, as well as designer clothing, training shoes and sportswear.

The sanctions package, covering goods worth $75.7 million in 2021, includes a ban on the export of jewelry, art and even kitchenware from Canada to Russia.

Canada is also imposing a ban on products that could be used in the production and manufacture of weapons by Russia.

Joly also imposed sanctions on 14 more people, including oligarchs with links to the Russian president’s regime and their family.

They include billionaire Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB agent who bought two major newspapers, the Evening Standard and Independent, in the United Kingdom. He also finances Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s leading opposition newspaper.

Gleb Frank, owner of one of Russia’s largest fishery companies, and son of Sergei Frank, former minister of transport and former CEO of Sovcomflot, Russia’s largest shipping firm, is on the new sanctions list.

So is Gleb Frank’s wife Ksenia Frank, the youngest daughter of oligarch Gennady Timchenko, an associate of Putin. She lives in Switzerland and attended Edinburgh University in the U.K.

Elena Timchenko, wife of Gennady Timchenko, is also on the latest sanctions roll.

David Davidovich, the “right-hand man” of oligarch Roman Abramovich, is also hit by sanctions. Abramovich is selling Chelsea, the British Premier League soccer club, after being caught in an earlier wave of sanctions.

The fresh tranche of financial penalties came as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland wrapped up a round of talks with G7 counterparts in Germany, as well as with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Freeland announced Canada is extending an additional $250-million loan to Ukraine, bringing Canada’s total financial support for the war-torn country to $1.8 billion. The loan comes on top of military support and weaponry for Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters from Germany, Freeland said other G7 nations were interested in following Canada’s lead in making legislative changes allowing the confiscation and sale of Russian assets to help rebuild Ukraine.

Current laws only allow the government to freeze assets and accounts of sanctioned individuals. But Canada’s budget implementation bill sets out its intent to enact a law that would broaden the current sanctions regime to allow for the seizure of their assets.

Freeland said other G7 countries had lots of questions about “the seizure of Russian assets and using them to help pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine” and were interested in following Canada’s lead.

She said Canada has an opportunity “to lead by example and show what can be done.”

“There was a lot of interest in what Canada is doing,” Freeland said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Canada has imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 individuals and entities from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

“The Putin regime must, and will, answer for their unjustifiable acts,” said Joly.

“Canada, together with our allies, will be relentless in our efforts to maintain pressure on the Russian regime, until it is no longer able to wage war. We are unwavering in our support for Ukraine and its people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.

 

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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Smaller telcos could feel the pinch after Ottawa prohibits use of Huawei’s 4G gear

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Experts say smaller, independent telecommunications companies will be hurt the most by a federal government decision to ban China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE from involvement in Canada’s 5G wireless network, in a move that will also eventually prohibit their products from existing 4G services equipment.

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Thursday that the government will not be reimbursing the companies which need to remove this equipment from their networks by Dec. 31, 2027.

Telecom experts say smaller companies like Ice Wireless, which serves northern Canada and partnered with Huawei in 2019, as well as British Columbia’s rural internet provider ABC Communications, which also partnered with Huawei in 2019, could be negatively affected.

“We’re not talking companies that are flush with cash. They are going to have to stop investing in the technology that they have in place and somehow come up with the money to replace the equipment over the next five years,” telecom consultant Mark Goldberg said in an interview.

“It’s a bigger deal for the smaller players, proportionate to their resources,” former Telus chief financial officer Robert McFarlane said in an interview.

McFarlane noted the United States’ creation of a fund to provide subsidies to rural carriers working with Huawei when they had banned the company, something Canada hasn’t established.

Canada’s biggest telecom companies, including Telus Corp. and Bell Canada parent BCE Inc. will likely be able to absorb the costs associated with having to pull out 4G Huawei gear, the experts said.

Telus and BCE each said in 2020 that they would be moving away from Huawei and working with Sweden’s Ericsson as a supplier for their 5G networks.

The experts also said Rogers Communications Inc., whose partnership with Ericsson began in 2018, is an even better position.

Even though rural internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc. announced in 2020 that it would no longer be relying on Huawei for its equipment, it could face financial hurdles as it transitions from 4G to 5G because it doesn’t have the same cash reserves as Canada’s major players, they add.

Huawei Canada has reacted to Ottawa’s move, saying that it is “an unfortunate political decision that has nothing to do with cybersecurity or any of the technologies in question.”

Huawei Canada added that the ban on its equipment and services could lead to “significant economic loss in Canada and drive up the cost of communications for Canadian consumers.”

In an interview Thursday, Huawei Canada vice-president Alykhan Velshi said that it would be “reckless and irresponsible” for the Canadian government to ask the company to stop supporting its existing equipment in the 5G network, noting that there are around 10,000 cellphone sites across Canada that have Huawei technology in them.

He also said that more conversations need to be had between Huawei and Ottawa.

ZTE also provided its thoughts on the decision in a statement saying that the company “reject(s) the premise of this announcement,” calling it “highly speculative.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says it welcomes Canada’s decision to ban China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE from its next-generation mobile networks.

In a statement, the U.S. says it supports efforts around the world to ensure consumers and customers can trust their wireless networks and providers.

It says it will continue to collaborate with Canada and other allies to ensure shared security in the 5G era.

“We welcome Canada’s decision,” the State Department said in writing Friday in response to a query from The Canadian Press.

“The United States supports efforts to ensure countries, companies, and citizens can trust their wireless networks and their operators. We continue to collaborate with allies like Canada to ensure our shared security in a 5G future and beyond.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Trudeau pledges more action on cybersecurity following decision to ban Huawei from 5G

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OTTAWA — A day after the federal Liberals banned Chinese firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE from helping build Canada’s 5G networks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said more must be done to secure critical systems against threats.

The government is working closely with big financial institutions as well as other companies across the country to protect vital networks from malicious attackers, Trudeau said Friday at an event in Quebec.

Canada will do more, whether through legislation, new spending or “better and stronger partnerships,” he told reporters.

Trudeau seemed undaunted by the fact Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin raised the spectre of retaliation over Canada’s 5G decision at a press briefing Friday.

“Without any solid evidence, the Canadian side cited vague security risks as a pretext to exclude relevant Chinese companies from its market,” Wang said.

“This move violates the market economy principle and free-trade rules and severely harms the Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests.”

Trudeau conceded Canada’s 5G policy “may well lead to challenges of the World Trade Organization.”

“But we feel that it is extremely important to stand up for Canadian protection, Canadian interests and Canadian safety. That’s why we took this decision and we stand by it.”

The Liberal government made it clear this week that the long-awaited 5G decision is only a first step in an era of perpetual cyberattacks, ransomware operations and efforts by criminal hackers and state-sponsored players to pilfer information or sabotage key infrastructure.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Thursday the government would table legislation to protect critical infrastructure in the finance, telecommunications, energy and transport sectors.

In addition, Mendicino’s mandate letter from the prime minister directs him to expand efforts to detect security risks in foreign research and investment partnerships, partly by increasing RCMP and security agency resources for this purpose.

Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University, said legitimate network integrity concerns, as well as persistent pressure from the United States, helped forge Canada’s decision to exclude the Chinese vendors from 5G.

“Is this going to resolve our security problems, security concerns? Absolutely not.”

Much of the “hidden wiring” of the Canadian economy lies in private hands, and securing it poses a huge challenge, he said. “We need to do a lot more.”

Hampson ponders whether Canada is prepared for a major cyberattack against a seaport or machines in the oilsands that rely on remote-communication technologies.

“I think the short answer is no,” he said. “I mean, yes, we’re getting better at it. But it’s not just being able to thwart and deter those attacks, but how resilient are we?”

The latest federal budget earmarks $875 million over five years, and $238.2 million ongoing, for cybersecurity measures including programs at the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s electronic spy service, as well as more robust protection for small federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations.

The move is applauded as “utterly important” by Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, senior director for digital economy, technology and innovation at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

However, the chamber wants the government to turn next to helping the private sector bolster its defences.

Bahr-Gedalia said knowing how to predict and prevent problems in the digital sphere is essential.

“It is crucial for businesses to be secure and safe,” she said. “We really want to be ahead of the game, which is so important.”

The chamber is urging the government to spend $1 billion to protect Canada’s critical infrastructure, supply chains and businesses of all sizes from cyberthreats.

This will augment the more than $7 billion already being spent by the private sector on cybersecurity products and services, it says.

It is also calling for $300 million to accelerate the commercialization of such products and services in Canada, and $200 million to build Canada’s future cybersecurity workforce through education, talent development and retention programs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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