OTTAWA — After banning Huawei and ZTE from Canada’s next-generation high-speed networks, the Liberal government says it will soon propose a new law to protect against cyber-attacks on telecommunications platforms and other sensitive sectors such as energy, banking and healthcare.
Few details were available the day after the Trudeau cabinet finally made the decision to follow the lead of its key security allies, banning Huawei on national security grounds and promising additional legislative changes.
Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said in an interview on Friday that the government does not plan to compensate Huawei or Canadian telecom companies that are required to comply with orders to remove Huawei equipment by 2027.
It does intend to amend the Telecommunications Act to create an ‘evergreen’ list of suppliers that are considered a risk, which the cabinet could expand through regulations and ordinances.
And while Mendicino admits there are already laws protecting critical infrastructure, he plans to introduce a separate new law that will target “cyber and telecommunications where many critical sectors operate.”
Among them, Mendicino listed telecommunications, energy, finance and banking, transportation and health care. “We need to make sure we have enough tools to protect ourselves against the new threats to our national security.”
The Liberal government has also extended the 5G ban to ZTE, a part-Chinese state-owned company, and says it has “serious concerns” about suppliers who could be forced to follow orders from a foreign government that runs counter to Canada’s interests. . The US says Huawei could be forced to spy for the Chinese government – allegations the Chinese government flatly denies.
While it has declined to explain how Huawei poses a risk, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted on Friday that the decision was made to “ensure the safety of Canadians as the world moves towards 5G, which will surround us even more with devices connected to the Internet. We need to make sure we keep Canadians safe and secure going forward,” he told reporters in Sept-Îles, Que.
An analyst, Shuvaloy Majumdar, former foreign policy adviser to Stephen Harper, said Canada has waited too long to ban Huawei and is now lagging behind its allies in building its security infrastructure.
China’s response to the ban was swift.
The liberal government is using national security as a “pretext” to violate “market economy principles and free trade rules,” the Chinese embassy in Ottawa said in a statement echoing comments from the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.
It warned that the “incorrect actions on the Canadian side will certainly damage Canada’s interests and international image”, saying that China will “take all necessary measures to protect the legitimate and legal rights and interests of Chinese companies”.
Canada has a foreign investment and protection agreement with China. However, it is not clear whether the narrowly drafted national security regulations could exempt the actions of the federal government from a legal challenge by Huawei, ZTE or China.
Canada’s closest allies – the US, UK and Australia – have banned Huawei, and New Zealand, Canada’s fifth partner in the “Five Eyes” security information network, has restricted the use of Huawei in 5G by one carrier but stopped outright ban.
Huawei Canada spokesman Alykhan Velshi said Friday that the company will take time to review the promised legislation once it is enacted, but declined to comment on whether it is considering a legal challenge.
Huawei has already relocated most of its businesses in Canada. It spends $300 million a year on telecommunications research and development. In 2020, the company was ranked 18th in the top 100 business spending on R&D in Canada. It also sells consumer products such as laptops and mobile phones — none of which will be affected by the 5G ban, he said.
Velshi also said Huawei will continue to provide software updates for its hardware currently installed on Bell and Telus 4G and 5G networks – but which the government has now instructed companies to remove. Rogers had already removed Huawei equipment from his mobile networks. However, Bell and Telus had vowed in 2020 to stop buying new Huawei equipment and gradually replace it with Nokia, Ericsson or Samsung equivalents as the equipment needs to be replaced.
The Liberal government has publicly denied that it waited years to make a decision over the long-running dispute with China over Canada’s 2018 arrest of Huawei chief executive Meng Wanzhou — which led to China’s two Canadian men Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. arbitrarily held.
However, senior government sources have confirmed to the Star that the government did not want to endanger the men any further. China had also banned imports of Canadian rapeseed, beef and pork. The final ban on rapeseed products was lifted earlier this week.
Nevertheless, ex-Harper adviser Majumdar said in an interview from Warsaw that the Liberal government could and should have banned Huawei long before the arrest in 2018 or immediately after the release of the “two Michaels” on September 25, 2021.
Majumdar, a senior Munk fellow and program director for foreign and national security at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said that before the Meng Wanzhou affair, liberals “should have kept a sharp eye out for threats to Canadian national security and Canada’s critical security.” infrastructure” and Huawei years had banned. past. “And they had advice from officials to do that,” he added. “This administration benefits from the best advice not only from our senior officials in our own security community, but also from our allies.”
As a result, Canada is now lagging behind “behind every one of our key allies” and in all of the “key conversations we should be having about energy and critical mineral security.”
“They are lagging behind in technology alliances, building not only among our closest Five Eyes partners, but also in the wider democratic world. They are lagging behind in shortening supply chains between countries that trust each other. And while the decision is welcome, it is years too late and they have a lot to make up for.”