The federal government has banned Huawei from working on Canada’s fifth-generation networks over security concerns – a move that critics say is long overdue.
The move puts Canada on the same line as key intelligence allies like the United States, which have expressed concerns about the national security implications of the Chinese tech giant’s access to key infrastructure.
The government is also banning ZTE, another state-backed Chinese telecommunications company. A government policy statement published online says companies will have until June 28, 2024 to retire or terminate 5G equipment from Huawei and ZTE.
They will also have to remove or terminate any existing 4G equipment provided by companies by December 31, 2027. The policy statement says the government expects companies to stop buying new 4G or 5G equipment from companies by September of this year.
“It’s the right decision and we are happy to announce it today because it will secure our network for generations to come,” said Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François- Philippe Champagne, during a press conference.
LOOK | Canada bans Huawei from accessing the 5G network
Responding to a question about the risk of retaliation from the Chinese government, Champagne did not indicate that was a factor in the government’s decision.
“Let’s be clear, this is about Canada, this is about our national security, this is about our telecommunications infrastructure,” he said.
Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said the decision marks “a new era in protecting our telecommunications industry.” He said the decision was made after “extensive government review [of] 5G and wireless technologies.”
“Canada is a country where people can innovate and start new businesses, and take advantage of new technologies in 5G and beyond, but we also need to protect ourselves against the risks that can be exploited within these networks” , did he declare.
Mendicino said new legislation is coming to protect 5G networks. The legislation “will establish a framework to better protect systems vital to our national security and give the government a new tool to respond to emerging cyber threats,” Mendicino said.
In the 21st century, cybersecurity is national security. And our government has a responsibility to protect Canadians from growing cyber threats.
Today we announced our intention to ban Huawei and ZTE from Canada’s telecommunications system.
The minister said the legislation will also help protect infrastructure in the finance, energy and transport sectors.
The decision of the government is slow in coming. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has launched a review of companies that would be allowed to serve 5G networks during its first term.
Then-Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale promised to make a decision on Huawei before the 2019 federal election.
LOOK | Canada bans Huawei from telecommunications networks after years of delay
Opposition parties slam government, say decision comes too late
But opposition parties say the government waited too long to make up its mind.
In a statement to the media, Conservative public safety spokesperson Raquel Dancho and the party’s innovation, science and industry spokesperson Gerard Deltell said the government should have banned Huawei more early.
“The Conservatives repeatedly asked the Trudeau government to do the right thing and listen to security experts and calls from our allies, but they refused,” they said in a statement.
They also raised concerns about the costs companies will face to retire existing equipment.
“During the years of delay, Canadian telecommunications companies have purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Huawei equipment that will now have to be removed from their networks at enormous expense,” they said.
In a tweet, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong also criticized the government.
“It wouldn’t have taken more than three years for the Trudeau government to ban Huawei,” Chong said.
“David Vigneault, Director of CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service), publicly warned the government of the Huawei threat in early December 2018.”
1/ It would not have taken more than 3 years for the Trudeau government to ban Huawei.
NDP Innovation, Science and Industry Critic Brian Masse also criticized the government’s timing.
“It took three years for the Liberal government to make this decision while the other Five Eyes countries made their positions known much earlier,” he said in a statement.
“This delay has only raised serious questions at home and among our allies about the Liberal government’s national security commitments and has hampered the domestic telecommunications market.”
Masse also said the government is putting the safety and privacy of Canadians at risk by delaying the decision.
The development of 5G networks promises to give people faster online connections and provide the greater data capacity needed to allow more people and things to connect online.
While the federal government’s review of its 5G policy has looked broadly at which companies can serve the new, faster online networks, most of the attention has focused on whether Huawei would be permitted. to enter – and the possible national security implications of granting access.
The government has remained largely silent on the review’s progress after China jailed Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor nearly three years ago – an apparent act of retaliation for the RCMP arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on a US extradition warrant.
The two Canadians returned home last fall, hours after Meng reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the US government.
Critics have warned that Huawei’s participation in Canada’s 5G networks could give the company insight into how, when and where Canadians use internet-connected devices – and which the Chinese government could force the company to transmit this personal information.
China’s National Intelligence Law stipulates that Chinese organizations and citizens must support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work.
Huawei insists it is a fiercely independent company that does not spy on anyone, including Beijing.
Huawei executive not surprised by ban
In an interview with CBC Political power, Alykhan Velshi, Huawei’s vice president of corporate affairs in Canada, said he was not surprised by the decision, but was still disappointed.
The government has not provided evidence that Huawei is a national security threat, he said. He also asked what the government would do regarding scheduled software upgrades for already installed Huawei equipment – something the company is currently discussing with the government, he added.
“I find it hard to believe that the government is going to want to suspend these discussions,” he told host Vassy Kapelos.
LOOK | ‘It’s a political decision’: Huawei VP on Canadian ban
“Our position is that we will continue to support Huawei equipment in the network, and that will require an ongoing level of cooperation on a technical level between Huawei and the federal government – not just in the days and weeks ahead, but, frankly, years to come as long as this equipment remains part of Canada’s telecommunications network.
Velshi said the company has about 1,500 employees in Canada, and most of them work in research and development. They are unaffected by the decision, he said.
He added that the company’s consumer products, such as phones and watches, are not affected by the decision. He said the company has been focusing on R&D and consumer products since 2018 in anticipation of the ban announced today.
“The reality is that Huawei will be part of Canada’s telecommunications industry for the foreseeable future,” he said.
How could this affect the Canada-China relationship?
Various European countries and Canada’s allies in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group – including the US, UK and Australia – have taken aggressive action against Huawei, either by excluding it from their networks, or by restricting their use of Huawei equipment.
Late last year, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned that Beijing’s relationship with Canada was at “a crossroads”.
Earlier in December, China’s ambassador to Canada warned that excluding Huawei would send a “very bad signal”.
Huawei already supplies some Canadian telecommunications companies with 4G equipment.
As Global News reported, telecom companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Huawei gear while the federal government overhauled 5G, though that number has dwindled over the years.
The government also faces a lawsuit under a foreign investor protection agreement Stephen Harper’s government signed with China.
Under this agreement, Huawei Canada – as an existing investor with assets – could sue Canada.