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opinion

Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou speaks to media outside the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Sept. 24.JESSE WINTER/Reuters

Get on with it already.

Now that the two Michaels are back home, the Trudeau government must stop its dawdling and develop a robust technology security strategy as a defence against rogue states.

If Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig’s chilling three-year ordeal has taught us anything, it should be that Canada can no longer afford to be passive about protecting our people and safeguarding our national security.

Not only should Ottawa officially ban telecommunications equipment made by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from Canada’s 5G wireless networks, the Trudeau government must also co-ordinate technology security with our democratic allies if we have any hope of keeping authoritarian countries such as China and Russia in check.

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted last month that Canada could soon prohibit the use of Huawei gear in our next-generation wireless networks, his government continues to move at a lumbering pace.

By all means, take your time. Ottawa’s cybersecurity review of 5G has only dragged on since 2018 and Huawei equipment is already used by Canadian carriers in their existing wireless networks.

What could possibly go wrong?

Although Rogers Communications Inc., BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. plan to use 5G equipment from Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericsson and South Korea’s Samsung, an official ban of Huawei telecom gear is still the necessary first step in establishing a comprehensive technology security strategy.

Canadians, of course, deserve more than just a symbolic shutting-of-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted type of ban. Ottawa should also order domestic telecoms to immediately rip out and replace any existing Huawei gear in their networks and compensate them for their trouble.

Protecting our national security ought to be the paramount concern. Mr. Trudeau must find the money. Think of all the federal spending that he’s already greenlit over the past 18 months – some of it utterly unnecessary, such as our recent $600-million election and the COVID-19 wage subsidies that padded the bottom lines of profitable companies.

While he’s at it, Mr. Trudeau should restrict sales of Huawei’s consumer products such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and smartwatches in Canada, and immediately bar the company from receiving any further federal research grants.

Crucially, though, Mr. Trudeau must be pragmatic and co-ordinate technology security policies with our key democratic allies, including the United States.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) meeting in Paris that the U.S. is eager to consult with other democracies on “crucial technology issues” such as cybersecurity, digital assets and supply-chain security.

“We face the challenge of shaping the rules for new and emerging technologies,” Mr. Blinken said during his OECD keynote address on Oct. 5. “We must ensure that advances in technology are used to lift people up and advance human freedom – not suppress dissent, further entrench inequities, or target minority communities.”

Also last week, in Washington, Mark Warner, chair of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, took direct aim at Huawei, arguing that “many countries have woken up to the economic and security risks” of using its telecom equipment in their next-generation networks.

Canada, of course, still isn’t one of them.

Inexplicably, Canada remains the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance – which also includes Australia, Britain, the U.S. and New Zealand – that has yet to ban or restrict the use of Huawei 5G equipment.

“The rise of an authoritarian China under Xi Jinping and the restoration of Russian autocracy under Vladimir Putin are arguably the two most significant events affecting the current global system,” states a new report by the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

“Both men have secured power inside their own borders and are increasingly confident of their ability to project their norms and preferences externally.”

The report, titled Evolving the Five Eyes: Opportunities and Challenges in the New Strategic Landscape, makes numerous recommendations including creating a joint technology-development forum with a mandate that includes 5G and 6G applications, artificial intelligence, electromagnetic spectrum research and cyberwarfare.

Concern about Huawei, though, extends far beyond other Five Eyes members. Japan and Taiwan have also effectively barred Huawei from their respective 5G networks. India, meanwhile, excluded Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese technology company, from participating in its 5G trials.

The U.S. is also pursuing strategic discussions about technology security in other international forums, including the U.S.-E.U. Trade and Technology Council, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (which includes the U.S., India, Japan and Australia) and through its new AUKUS security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom.

Ottawa, of course, excels at introspection rather than pro-active planning when it comes to matters of industry policy, national security and defence. That’s a charitable explanation for why Canada’s membership cards for those forums were apparently lost in the mail.

The truth is our allies no longer take us seriously because we routinely drop the ball on strategic issues. Ottawa can’t afford to be an international laggard on technology security.

If Canada wants credibility as a middle power, our government needs to take decisive action against bullies such as China and Russia. Prolonging Ottawa’s paralysis by analysis just makes us more of a patsy.

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