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The Department of National Defence said Ottawa is now probing the matter of China recruiting Western pilots to train its air force.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Department of National Defence said it’s investigating whether former Canadian fighter pilots are helping the Chinese military after reports in Britain and Australia that Beijing was recruiting Westerners to train its own air force.

The British government announced this week it was taking steps to stop China trying to recruit serving and former British military pilots to train the Chinese armed forces.

“We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former U.K. Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

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The BBC, among other British media outlets, reported on Tuesday that up to 30 former military pilots had gone to train members of China’s People’s Liberation Army. The Australian newspaper reported that Australians were among this group of pilots and the Daily Mail said Canadians were also being recruited.

The British and Australian governments have said they’re investigating.

Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations at the Department of National Defence, said Ottawa is now probing the matter too.

“We are aware of these reports, and we are looking into this further with federal partners,” Mr. Le Bouthillier said, noting that Canadian military veterans are still bound by secrecy commitments after they leave the Canadian Armed Forces.

“The Security of Information Act applies to both current and former members, and non-compliance with the act could result in serious consequences,” Mr. Le Bouthillier said of legislation that was formerly named the Official Secrets Act.

“As an institution that upholds democratic principles and the rule of law, we trust and expect current and former CAF members to adhere to the values of the institution. Any behaviour that could potentially harm Canadian national interests is a violation of this trust and will be dealt with appropriately.”

Opposition Conservative MPs have tabled a motion at the Commons defence committee to call Defence Minister Anita Anand to testify on the matter. The motion has not been voted on by committee members yet.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said there was no time to waste.

“It is imperative that the Canadian Armed Forces investigate the validity of these stories as quickly as possible and determine if any Canadians are undermining our collective national security. Anyone who has violated their obligations under Canadian law must be held to account,” he said.

Britain’s armed forces minister James Heappey said authorities in that country will make it a legal offence for pilots to continue with such training activities.

China is a competitor that is threatening the U.K. interest in many places around the world,” Mr. Heappey told Britan’s Sky News. “It is also an important training partner but there is no secret in their attempt to gain access to our secrets, and their recruitment of our pilots in order to understand the capabilities of our air force is clearly a concern to us.”

Sky News and the BBC reported that the British former military pilots who are currently in China training that country’s armed forces pilots are being paid annual salaries equivalent to $370,000.

A spokesperson for Britain’s Ministry of Defense said authorities are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts across defence departments as part of measures to stop Chinese recruitment programs.

Tobias Ellwood, a British MP who chairs Parliament’s defence committee, said it was surprising there weren’t already laws preventing British pilots from training members of the Chinese army.

Mr. Heappey said all former pilots who have been recruited to train Chinese counterparts have been approached and warned against continuing such work.

With files from Reuters and Associated Press

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