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Company linked to the Chinese government | MPs point to gaps in government security screening



(OTTAWA) The awarding of a controversial telecommunications contract to a company linked to China should put a red light on the government’s dashboard, judge the elected members of the parliamentary committee studying the case.

How Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) was able to give the green light to the Sinclair Technologies deal when the United States had blacklisted Hytera Communications, a Beijing-linked company that had controlled it since 2017?

Why doesn’t the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have a list of potentially malicious companies? Is it normal for the federal police to rely on the protocols in place at PSPC for contracts affecting national security?

The Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino, as well as two senior RCMP officials, Bryan Larkin and Samantha Hazen, were treated to a barrage of questions at the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, which resumed work on Monday.

The appearances aim to shed light on this telecommunications contract of approximately $550,000 awarded to Sinclair Technologies, established in Canada, but controlled by Hytera Communications, a Chinese company owned approximately 10% by Beijing, through a Investment Funds.

The RCMP suspended the agreement on December 8, after its existence was revealed in a Radio-Canada report. The federal police nevertheless ensured that the Sinclair Technologies equipment did not pose a security risk.

“Why was the contract suspended immediately if it was determined there was no national security risk and all protocols were followed? asked Conservative MP Brad Vis from Minister Mendicino.

Dodging the question, the latter pleaded that it was “important to remain vigilant”, and that this vigilance “requires that we constantly reassess the situation to ensure that we protect our critical infrastructures from potential foreign interference”.

A lack of information?

When questioned by the NDP and Conservative representatives, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Specialized Policing Services, Bryan Larkin, said that unlike the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, the federal police do not have an inventory of companies with questionable activities or connections.

“Not to my knowledge, no,” he said.

“I imagine that not having this kind of list helps to better understand that this type of breach is happening,” reacted curator Rick Perkins.

In turn, fellow Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith suggested RCMP officials seek advice from Citizen Lab, Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, a lab focused on studying digital threats to civil society and governments.

“It’s really world class. Other civil society organizations and governments use their services. It would be nice if the RCMP procurement people got in touch with the team,” he said.

A contract that should not have been awarded

The Trudeau government agreed that the contract should never have been awarded by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) in October 2021, especially since the United States had banned equipment from Hytera Communications in March 2021.

“It is very worrying. Our independent public service should never have signed this contract. […] We expect national security issues to be at the heart of all the decisions we make,” said Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly in the House last December.

This affair “more a problem of image than of security”, because “it is difficult to break an encrypted message”, estimates Stephanie Carvin, assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University specializing in national security issues.

Perhaps the “most significant” issue is that of procurement, given that PSPC preferred the bid of the company partly owned by Beijing to that of the Quebec company Comprod, which offered $60,000 less, according to information from Radio-Canada.

The Aurora, Ont., company declined to comment on Ottawa’s decision to shelve the contract, but said it was “a completely independent entity,” and that the 2017 transfer of ownership had in no way eroded that independence.

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