Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa refuses to let “politics slip into" the decision to allow Huawei equipment into Canada’s next-generation mobile networks even as the U.S. and Australia have barred the Chinese telecom giant on grounds of national security.
The Prime Minister’s comments come just days after two U.S. senators took the unusual step of publicly urging the Liberal government to ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks. Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Mark Warner warned that Canada’s telecommunication safeguards are insufficient to address the risks posed by the Shenzhen company. They both sit on the U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence and Mr. Warner is vice-chair.
Mr. Trudeau, however, said the Liberal cabinet is relying on Canadian public servants, not political considerations, to inform its position.
He cited Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the spy agency responsible for protecting the country from cyberattacks and espionage. Scott Jones, the new head of Ottawa’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security at CSE, recently told MPs this country has a robust system of testing facilities for Huawei equipment and software to prevent security breaches – one Mr. Jones suggested was superior to those of some of Canada’s allies.
The Prime Minister was asked Monday how Canada could let Huawei into this country’s 5G mobile network infrastructure even though close allies had decided it was too risky for their next-generation networks.
“First of all, we make our decisions based on evidence, based on the recommendations of our extraordinarily effective Communications Security Establishment. We listen to them,” Mr. Trudeau told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
“It’s very easy in discussions like this to let politics slip into decisions and positioning like that, and as I’ve been saying for more than three years, we try to base our decisions on evidence and data. And that means listening to the experts and trusting them,” Mr. Trudeau said.
In the House of Commons on Monday, the Conservative Party for the first time called on the Liberal government to bar Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks.
Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus urged Mr. Trudeau to exclude Huawei as the Australians and Americans have done.
“Once again, the Prime Minister is showing his lack of seriousness about the safety of Canadians. It is very clear now that Huawei is a threat to our national telecommunications infrastructure,” he said in the Commons.
“The United States and Australia have banned this company from their territory and two senior senators, representing the two political parties of the U.S. Senate, have written to the Prime Minister to try to make him understand the importance of this threat. Will the Prime Minister give the order today to ban Huawei?” Mr. Paul-Hus asked.
David Lametti, the parliamentary secretary to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, replied that the government would rely on experts to make decisions on telecommunications security. He did not address whether Ottawa would ever consider banning Huawei.
As The Globe 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.
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.
The Conservative Party’s call for a ban on Huawei’s involvement in next-generation mobile technology comes after Mr. Paul-Hus recently met senior officials overseeing U.S. cyberintelligence who expressed skepticism over Canada’s recent declaration that it possesses sufficient safeguards to address the risk of cyberespionage through devices made by Huawei.
The American officials he consulted work in the cyberpolicy office of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues.
Mr. Paul-Hus said the Americans were adamant the Canadian and British approach to test Huawei equipment, rather than ban it, is inadequate to uncover potential back doors in the Chinese firm’s gear. Canada’s CSE has set up what are called white labs, which are paid for by Huawei. Technicians test equipment at the labs for capabilities that can be built in that could allow Chinese hackers to covertly intercept data or disable communications networks.
The next generation of wireless technology, 5G, will require a vast increase in the number of small cell sites – smaller versions of cell towers – to provide a dense web of coverage to deliver faster downloads and almost no lag time.