At least two provincial cabinet ministers and a number of other government officials and employees are under the control of foreign countries as part of espionage schemes, Canada's top security official said Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview on CBC's The National, CSIS director Richard Fadden said foreign powers are infiltrating Canadian political circles and influencing public servants, fuelling a growing concern about economic espionage in Canada.
Economic espionage, the trading, sharing or theft of federal secrets, can be considered a crime. He would not name the provinces the cabinet ministers are from.
"We're in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication there are some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries," he told host Peter Mansbridge.
CBC reporter Brian Stewart said in a report that accompanied the interview that the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service deems the two cabinet ministers to be "agents of influence" or "secret supporters."
Mr. Stewart added that a number of municipal politicians in British Columbia are also being influenced by agents and officials from other countries.
Mr. Fadden made it clear in the interview that CSIS is closely watching these politicians.
The report said that Mr. Fadden has alleged that about five countries are casting their hands into Canada's political sphere, including China and countries in the Middle East. Mr. Fadden said in the interview that these and other nations may target idealistic and ambitious university students and try to influence them early on in their careers.
They would endeavour to keep in touch, he said, and "before you know it, a country is providing them with money, there's some sort of covert guidance."
The report said it is unclear how much the government knows about these foreign influences.
Vancouver city councillor Raymond Louie, a second-generation Canadian who is one of several municipal politicians who have visited China in recent years, said: "It makes for a good spy movie but I would say it's a bit crazy unless they're talking about somebody's relative off in some other country or some linkage that way. At the municipal level, I'm not sure of anybody here at city hall that's under the influence of someone offshore."
Experts said the timing of Mr. Fadden's allegations, on the eve of the G8 and G20 summits, was intriguing and seemed to reveal anxiety on the part of the intelligence agency as world leaders and protesters descend on the Toronto area.
"Very important principles of the rule of law and governance have been compromised," said intelligence expert Martin Rudner.
"So in that sense, I think CSIS may feel that it wants to let the public know and indeed let those individuals and governments know that they're being scrutinized."
In the first segment of his interview with Mr. Mansbridge, which aired on Monday night, the director said the summits have a very low risk of terrorism.
"We don't think there is anyone who is really interested in doing any harm from that perspective," he said in the interview.
That said, "anarchists" and "multi-issue extremists" will be under close watch, he suggested.
Mr. Fadden was appointed CSIS director in June 2009 after his three year stint as Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
With a file from Frances Bula in Vancouver