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Politics Huawei executives lobbied MPs to resist U.S. 5G boycott effort

People walk past the Huawei Technologies stall at the Security China exhibition on public safety and security in Beijing on Oct. 23, 2018.

THOMAS PETER/Reuters

Key executives at Huawei Canada have been lobbying members of Parliament from all parties in an effort to convince them that the Chinese telecom giant does not pose a national security threat to Canada, according to the federal lobbying registry.

The lobbying campaign began in late August after Australia followed the lead of the United States and blocked Huawei from providing equipment for its 5G mobile network. Earlier this month, two members of the U.S. Senate select intelligence committee – Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Mark Warner – wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to ban Huawei from providing the next-generation mobile technology.

Huawei vice-president of corporate affairs Scott Bradley and Jake Enwright, director of corporate affairs, have been seeking out meetings with members on the House of Commons public safety and national security committee as well as other MPs.

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Mr. Bradley is a former Liberal candidate whose company is a sponsor of the Liberal-connected Canada 2020 think tank, while Mr. Enwright is a former communications director to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

Conservative MP Peter Kent said the two Huawei executives approached him under the guise of a casual visit. “I said it is not a casual visit. You are obviously trying to make cause for the company, and I said I hope you write it down on the [lobby] registry," Mr. Kent said.

The Oct. 1 meeting was registered with the federal Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, but under the name of Huawei Canada president Eric Li. The Lobbying Act allows corporations to list the name of the most senior paid officer that is responsible for registering – whether that person lobbies or not, according to Manon Dion at the Lobbying Commissioner’s office. The lobbying registry shows Huawei executives met with eight MPs – six Liberals, one Conservative and one NDP. The most recent meeting on the registry took place on Oct. 4.

Mr. Kent said the Huawei executives played down any national security concerns about Huawei and insisted the testing of Huawei equipment in what are referred to as “white labs” overseen by the Communications Security Establishment is adequate.

“They were basically saying, ‘We wouldn’t work for a company that was working against Canada’s interest,' ” Mr. Kent said. “I said, ‘I don’t think there are any misconceptions. If the Five Eyes intelligence allies, including the United States, have very serious concerns about Huawei, I have the same concerns.’ ”

Under Chinese law, companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” as requested by Beijing, and security experts in the United States and Canada warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei could be compromised on behalf of China’s ruling party.

In their letter to Mr. Trudeau, the U.S. senators raised the prospect that a Canadian embrace of Huawei technology in its 5G networks could affect the sharing of sensitive and confidential information between the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing allies. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand constitute the Five Eyes, which allows police, prosecutors and spies in the member countries to exchange information to prevent espionage and terrorism.

Huawei’s Mr. Bradley said he is meeting with MPs to better explain his company to legislators. “Huawei Canada has been offering to meet with Members of Parliament to brief them on the business and research work being conducted by our nearly 1,000 Canadian employees over the past decade to support innovation, competition and rural and remote internet connectivity.”

Liberal MP John McKay, chair of the committee on public safety and national security, said the two executives stressed to him that there is no need to bar Huawei from providing 5G equipment in Canada.

“They feel that Australia made a mistake and that this is not the way to go,” he said. “Their argument is that they have been in business in Canada for more than 10 years, that they have a working relationship with the Communications Security Establishment [CSE] and that they feel that they have complied with everything.”

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NDP MP Matthew Dubé, who also sits on the public safety and national security committee, said the Huawei executives were attempting to “calm us and reassure that everything is alright” with the company’s 5G technology.

“When you get a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill out of Washington, it is worth paying attention to,” he said. “I struggle with this to, be honest, because we do see what is happening in Australia and the U.S., but in European countries and the U.K., there seems to be progress made in working with Huawei.”

Mr. Dubé said he was not entirely reassured when Scott Jones, the new head of the CSE’s Cyber Security Centre, told MPs last month that the federal government has a robust system of testing facilities for Huawei equipment and software to prevent security breaches − one he suggested is superior to those of some of Canada’s allies.

Mr. Jones also said Ottawa is leery about excluding firms such as Huawei because it believes reducing the number of telecom equipment suppliers would mean Canada would be more vulnerable if one vendor’s equipment was infected.

As The Globe and Mail has reported, Huawei already works under some constraints in Canada. The company is not allowed to bid into telecommunications companies' core networks, is blocked from federal government contracts and is not allowed to manage equipment from offshore locations.

The chiefs of six U.S. intelligence agencies and three former heads of Canada’s spy services have said publicly they consider Huawei one of the world’s top cyberintelligence threats and that its 5G technology could be used to conduct remote spying, maliciously modify or steal information or even shut down systems.

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