Trudeau ‘questions’ RCMP contract that relies on tech supplied by firm with Chinese ties

OTTAWA — The federal government will be reviewing a controversial contract with a company with ties to the Chinese government that provides the RCMP with sensitive communications equipment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the federal public service’s decision to sign the contract “disconcerting” and said the procurement process would be changed to make sure a situation like this does not happen again.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on the contract to be cancelled and told reporters Wednesday that Trudeau “has to take the responsibility for his own government, rather than trying to blame everyone else all the time.”

“I mean, it’s almost something that you’d expect to be out of a spy novel. But characters in spy novels would never be that incompetent,” he said.

Radio-Canada revealed on Wednesday that Public Services and Procurement Canada awarded a contract to Sinclair Technologies in 2021 worth $549,637 for a radio frequency filtering system meant to protect the RCMP’s land-based radio communications.

Sinclair Technologies is based in Ontario but is controlled by Hytera Communications, a company based in China.

Hytera Communications is owned in part by the Chinese government through an investment fund and has been blacklisted since 2021 by the United States Federal Communications Commission for posing an “unacceptable risk” to the national security of the country.

The company is also facing 21 charges in an American espionage case, notably for conspiring to steal trade secrets from American company Motorola. Hytera had denied the allegations.

In 2017, the Trudeau government allowed the sale of the B.C.-based satellite technology company Norsat International to Hytera, saying the sale would not harm national security.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters he instructed his officials, in light of Radio-Canada’s report, to look “very closely” at the details of the contract and to review the process by which the contract was awarded by PSPC last year.

“It goes without saying that we need to be very vigilant about where the vectors of risk and foreign interference are occurring on a daily basis,” he said.

Helena Jaczek, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, said in a statement that her department was aware of the concerns surrounding the RCMP’s contract but nonetheless praised her department’s work.

“As the central purchasing agent for the Government of Canada, PSPC has a strong record of managing the procurement of over $20 billion in goods and services each year based on the requirements set out by the client department,” she said.

“We will take all measures to ensure the integrity of our infrastructure.”

The ministers’ reactions followed Trudeau’s comments who, in a rare move, openly criticized the federal public service for “signing contracts that have questionable levels of security for our operations and our national security institutions” at a time when Canada’s security agencies are urging more vigilance over foreign interference.

Trudeau added that his government would be following up on the contract to ensure that the communications technology used by the RCMP is secure, but also called for a review.

He said he wants to make sure Canada is not signing contracts with the lowest bidder that leaves the country exposed to potential security flaws.

Sinclair Technologies’ bid was allegedly $60,000 less than its main competitor, Quebec-based communications technology firm Comprod, according to Radio-Canada.

“We will have some real questions for the independent public service that signed these contracts. And we’ll make sure that this is changed going forward. It’s high time that happens,” said Trudeau, speaking at a press conference in Montreal.

In Ottawa, Conservatives shared their disbelief at how the situation unfolded and even suggested that there is a pattern of not taking such situations seriously.

“The government has verbally tried to suggest that they understand some of the risks associated with national security vis-à-vis the Chinese Communist Party, but there is a consistent pattern of their actions completely contradicting their words,” said MP Garnett Genuis.

His colleague, Chris Warkentin, added that the situation “violates every reasonable thought that any person would have when it comes to national security” and that it is “unthinkable” that the government would sign such a contract for the RCMP.

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet said there is an important lesson he has learned when he was minister in the Quebec government: never blame the public servants.

“You just can’t do that,” he said.

The federal government has already banned China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE from its 5G wireless network last May over security concerns. The decision, which took years, made Canada the last member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to restrict the use of Huawei after the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

But recent reports highlighted the need for Canada to step up its surveillance in regards to foreign interference, in particular allegations that China funded candidates in the 2019 federal election. Trudeau has said foreign interference did not change the results of past elections in a “significant way.”

It is not the first time the Trudeau government has had to deal with Hytera Communications. In 2017, it approved the sale of Vancouver-based Norsat International to Hytera – prompting opposition MPs to accuse the government of turning a blind eye to national security.

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