Canada’s Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino insists the once unknown fate of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was not why the government delayed its decision to ban Huawei technologies from Canada’s 5G network.
Asking during an interview on CTV’s Question Period if Ottawa held off making a move as strenuous negotiations took place to release the two men, who were imprisoned in China for more than 1,000 days, the minister said simply, “no.”
Instead, he pointed to the political and technological intricacies of the decision as the cause for the three-year hold-up that put Canada behind all four Five Eyes allies in at least restricting the telecommunications giant.
“This is sophisticated technology and it is a very complex geopolitical environment in which we live… We had to get it right. We were anxious, we were eager to make sure that we could communicate what that statement of intent was,” he said.
Spavor and Kovrig’s arrests in Dec. 2018 were largely seen as a retaliatory move following the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, just days prior, on a U.S. extradition request. The two men were released in Sept. 2021 after Meng’s case was dropped.
Mendicino, joined by Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne last Thursday, also announced a ban on ZTE gear alongside the Huawei ban.
Telecommunication companies in Canada will not be permitted to include any products or services from these companies in their networks. Providers who already have this equipment installed will be required to stop using it and remove it.
The government’s “policy statement” cites national security concerns with the technology.
“The Government of Canada has conducted an extensive examination of 5G wireless technology and the various technical, economic and national security aspects of 5G implementation. The examination made clear that while this technology will bring significant benefits and economic opportunities, the technology will also introduce new security concerns that malicious actors could exploit,” it reads.
Huawei Canada’s Alykhan Velshi responded to the news noting that the federal government has failed to provide evidence of the company’s risk to national security, namely the accusation it’s involved in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government.
“We’ve been here since 2008, for 14 years, we’ve never received any complaints about compliance for our equipment,” he said.
While Canadian telecommunications companies are required to cease procurement of new 4G or 5G technology from Huawei and ZTE by Sept. 2022, they’ve been given until June 2024 to remove or terminate 5G technology, and until Dec. 2027 to remove or terminate 4G technology.
Asked why, if the technology has been deemed a security threat, the government is waiting several years to implement the ban, Mendicino said Ottawa will be taking steps to ensure the pace of work moves “very expeditiously.”
“Yes, we set out a timeline, but it doesn’t preclude that that work can be done more quickly,” he said, adding that the majority of Canada’s established 5G network exists without Huawei equipment.
On the threat of Chinese retaliation, the public safety minister said the government is always on “high alert.”
“When it comes to cybersecurity, when it comes to protecting our telecommunications sector, we’ll spare no effort in that regard. There are lots of opportunities for Canada to continue to leverage new technology and we want to be competitive, and we want to be innovative, and we want to make sure that Canadians have access to choice, but we’ve got to do it with eyes wide open as to what threats exist,” he said.
In a series of tweets published Friday, the Chinese embassy in Canada reflected on the decision stating the government “flagrantly” overstretched the concept of national security, “blatantly” violated market economy principles, and undermined the rights of Chinese enterprises.
“China will evaluate this development in a comprehensive and serious manner and take all necessary measures to protect the legitimate and legal rights and interests of Chinese enterprises,” one of the tweets reads.