A new report is resurrecting security fears related to the Chinese state's influence on Huawei, a telecom firm with a sizable presence in Ottawa that's among the leaders in developing next-generation 5G network infrastructure.
Despite concerns raised by former Canadian intelligence officials, local industry groups say they stand by Huawei, and the firm's Ottawa executives say the company is “fully committed” to protecting the integrity of this country’s telecom infrastructure.
On Monday, the Globe and Mail published a story quoting three former senior Canadian security officials, each of whom stated that Huawei poses a security threat to Canada. They echoed the calls of current U.S. security officials who recently told a U.S. House intelligence committee that the China-based firm posed a cybersecurity threat to American citizens.
Specifically, the security experts say they fear Huawei’s smartphones and equipment could be used to spy on their users, and that allowing the firm access to network infrastructure could compromise national security.
Responding to the report’s claims and calls from opposition leaders in the House of Commons, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said Canada would not block Huawei from conducting business in the country and that precautions have been taken to protect Canadians from foreign espionage.
The Chinese telecom firm – the world’s third-largest smartphone brand – has had a presence in Canada for a decade now, with its Kanata R&D outpost hosting more than 250 of its 700 employees in the country. In 2016, Huawei announced it would spend $303 million on its Ontario operations over five years.
That same year, however, the feds planned to deny visa applications to three Chinese employees of Huawei over concerns of espionage. In 2012, then-prime minister Stephen Harper enacted a national security exception to exclude the firm from participating in the construction of Canada’s national network infrastructure.
Other governments around the world, including the U.S., the U.K., Australia and India, have raised similar concerns about the firm’s operations in their countries.
Scott Bradley, Huawei’s vice-president of corporate affairs and the chair of the 5G Canada Council, said in a statement to OBJ that the firm has worked “openly and transparently” with Canadian operators and the federal government from the outset, and that its operations “are conducted in a manner” that reflects the national security objectives of any government or company it may be involved with.
“As we have since 2008, Huawei remains fully committed now and in the future to conducting our Canadian operations in any and all ways required of us by our operator customers, and by the Government of Canada,” he said.
The company reaffirmed its commitments to Ontario last December during a trip to China that included Premier Kathleen Wynne and Invest Ottawa CEO Mike Tremblay. Invest Ottawa, which has touted the economic benefit of the trade mission, declined to comment and said it could not discuss "matters related to national security."
Also on that delegation to China were representatives from the Ottawa-based Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks, a group of multinationals and local businesses, which Huawei announced then it would join in collaborations on 5G technology R&D.
A spokesperson for CENGN told OBJ in a statement that the consortium’s partners approved Huawei’s membership by vote, and defended its inclusion in the government-funded group.
“Huawei are not only an important employer and member of the technical ecosystem in Ontario, they are on the leading edge for 5G development. This 5G development will be important to Canada and Canadian growth in the new digital economy,” the firm said in a statement.
The organization added that it “works diligently to ensure all of our members are treated with the appropriate level of security to protect our other members, our Canadian testbed, and the CENGN ecosystem.”
Huawei recently deployed tests of a 5G network in rural Ontario alongside partner and fellow CENGN member Bell Canada.
Huawei has also made connections to Ottawa’s academic institutions. On the recent mission to China, the firm re-established its 5G research partnership with Carleton University. In 2015, it launched the “Seeds for the Future” program, which saw engineering students from both Ottawa universities join others across Canada for an exclusive tour of Huawei’s facilities in Shenzhen, China.
The Ontario government has previously invested in Huawei directly, giving $16 million to the firm in 2016 through the Jobs and Prosperity Fund. In response to possible security concerns, Wynne told the Globe and Mail on Monday that the province was equipped to handle any possible cybersecurity issues that may arise in dealing with the company.