On Friday, the federal government expects to receive guidelines for protecting national security, and for preventing other countries, such as China, from spying on its research projects.
Last year, the federal government spent $7 billion on research and development, according to StatCan. Just over half, $3.6 billion, was for research at universities, colleges, and other educational institutions.
The guidelines to increase the consideration of national security when evaluating and funding research partnerships are being developed by the government’s Universities Working Group, which includes Universities Canada and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities. The group also includes federal officials from the likes of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, CSIS, Global Affairs Canada, the National Research Council, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
The government asked for the guidelines in March when it released its latest policy statement on research security, which said Canadian research was increasingly at risk from foreign espionage.
“These activities pose threats to the integrity of Canada’s research enterprise, as well as our country’s national security, long-term economic competitiveness, and prosperity,” the statement reads.
Ottawa hasn’t decided exactly how it will follow the guidance, but when iPolitics asked Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne on Tuesday how he’ll approach research projects with ties to China, given he’s responsible for the departments and agencies that fund them, Champagne said the government should use the incoming guidelines as a “blueprint.”
“I’ve tasked the universities and our experts to come up with a blueprint, and some very specific guidelines (for) how we should engage in research security,” Champagne said.
“On one end, (we want to) respect the independence of our researcher, but on the other end, make sure we have national security top of mind.”
China and Russia are the main perpetrators of espionage against Canada, given that their governments are both mentioned in two reports on threats to Canada that were recently released by the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s digital spy agency, and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP).
CSE has found that China, specifically, targets academic institutions to gain a competitive edge militarily, commercially, and diplomatically.
China does this using such methods as academic exchanges and its Thousand Talents Program, which attempts to attract top researchers to China. “The result of this program is that intellectual property is often transferred to China,” NSICOP’s report says, citing what it’s been told by CSIS. The Thousands Talents Program has also been scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Research undertaken jointly by Canadian scientists and scientists in China’s military has also increased in the last decade. As of four years ago, Canada ranked No. 3 in the world — behind the U.S. and the U.K. — in research published in collaboration with scientists affiliated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, according to a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The guidelines the government expects by the end of this week are also meant to help researchers, research institutions, and government funders assess the security risk of any research they’re involved in.
The government hasn’t said if it will publish the guidelines, or some version of them.
MP Michael Chong, the Conservative party’s critic for Foreign Affairs, told iPolitics on Wednesday that it’s “long past due” for the government to address how countries like China threaten and take advantage of Canadian research.
The federal government should ban funding of research in “sensitive areas” — such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, telecommunications, quantum computing, and nanotechnologies — when partnerships with Chinese companies or institutions are involved, Chong said.
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