Ottawa is reviewing an RCMP contract for secure radio-communications equipment that was awarded to a subsidiary of a Chinese telecommunications company banned in the United States on national-security grounds and facing charges of espionage.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the awarding of the $549,637 contract – first reported by Radio-Canada on Wednesday – to Ontario-based Sinclair Technologies as “disconcerting.” Sinclair is building and maintaining a radio-frequency filtering system that provides secure communications for the RCMP.
Sinclair Technologies is a division of Norsat International, a Vancouver-based high-tech company that was purchased by Chinese telecommunications giant Hytera Communications Corp. in 2017. The Chinese government owns about 10 per cent of Hytera, which has won numerous contracts to supply mobile and digital radio systems to Chinese police departments and local governments.
Ottawa approved the sale of Norsat, which specializes in satellite communications, to Hytera without conducting a full-scale national-security review. At the time, Mr. Trudeau said the government did not compromise national security when it approved the takeover of Norsat, despite Hytera’s long-standing close ties to the ministry that oversees China’s police and security agencies.
On Wednesday, however, the Prime Minister told reporters in Montreal that the government has “some real questions” to ask public servants at Procurement and Public Services Canada who approved the RCMP communications-equipment contract.
“We’re going to be finding out first of all what needs to be done to ensure that our communications technology is secure, but also make sure we’re figuring out how this could continue to happen and make sure that Canada is not signing contracts with the lowest bidder that then turn around and leave us exposed to security flaws,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Radio-Canada, citing sources, said that the difference between Sinclair’s bid and that of its competitor, Quebec-based Comprod, was less than $60,000.
In the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre noted that Washington banned the sale and import of Hytera products in 2021, citing national-security concerns.
Hytera is also facing 21 charges of conspiring to steal patents and trade secrets from U.S. telecommunications company Motorola. The Chinese company has denied the allegations, saying it “strictly obeys local laws and regulations.”
The Conservative Party has called for the contract to be cancelled and the equipment to be pulled out of the RCMP land-based communications systems. Part of Sinclair’s radio-frequency technology is to prevent eavesdropping.
“What they have done is that they have given a contract to a company that is supposed to protect the RCMP from eavesdropping and that company is owned by another company that is charged with 21 espionage offences in the United States,” Mr. Poilievre said.
“How in God’s green earth did this government think it was a good idea to give a company accused of espionage the control of our anti-espionage technology?”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino replied that the government is “looking very, very carefully” at the way public servants screened this particular contract.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the fact that Hytera is blacklisted in the U.S. should have sounded alarm bells inside the federal government.
“I’m deeply concerned. I think that there is a real risk here, and it shows that the government did not take the appropriate steps to vet this project or the company,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
RCMP Corporal Kim Chamberland said the radio-communications equipment is protected with end-to-end encryption and that Sinclair’s “radio-frequency filtration equipment poses no security concerns, nor does it allow access to radio communications.” Sinclair did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The controversy has erupted as the House of Commons is examining Beijing interference operations in Canadian domestic affairs including democratic processes. In its recently announced Indo-Pacific strategy, the government vowed to combat foreign interference from China and said the world’s second-largest economy was an “increasingly disruptive global power.”
The RCMP announced in October that they are investigating allegations that China has set up illegal police stations in Canada, where personnel have allegedly coerced Chinese nationals living abroad into returning home, or into refraining from criticizing China’s rulers. The Department of Global Affairs summoned China’s envoy in Canada over the issue.
In another matter, the House unanimously voted Wednesday in favour of a motion by Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer to condemn Apple for dismantling its Airdrop feature on iPhones in China. The feature was used by Chinese protesters to avoid government censors.
The motion said “this House condemns the decision by Apple and other tech giants in their complicity in the crackdown against peaceful protesters in China.”