Tensions on the rise after Huawei arrest
CANADIAN BUSINESSES FACE RETALIATORY RISK FROM CHINA
Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecommunications executive in Vancouver at the request of the United States sparked widespread surprise, but in security and diplomatic circles it was pure deja vu.
Canada did a similar favour for the Americans in July 2014 when it arrested a Chinese businessman in British Columbia for hacking the data bases of U.S. defence contractors to steal military secrets.
In that case, Su Bin — a Chinese national who had permanent residency in Canada — was eventually extradited to the U.S. where he pleaded guilty in 2016 to a criminal conspiracy, years in the making, to steal U.S. military secrets. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison.
But it’s what happened a month after Su’s initial arrest that now has some spooked: Canadians Julia and Kevin Garratt, who lived three decades in China operating a coffee shop and doing Christian aid work, were arrested and accused of spying and stealing military secrets.
Now, there are fears of what China may do next.
The Garratts have since been released after a two-year ordeal, but in light of last Saturday’s arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, concern is rising that other Canadians in China are at risk of being arrested in retaliation.
“China will be furious and look for means of punishing us, in part as an example for others,” David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Thursday.
“That could include tit-for-tat moves against Canadians, a motive that many, myself included, suspect to have been at the bottom of the 2014 arrest and imprisonment of Canadians Julia and Kevin Garratt.”
That view is shared by other international security analysts after Canada’s Justice Department said the U.S. is seeking Meng’s extradition. Canada is not providing further details about the case because of a courtordered publication ban on her pending bail hearing, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he’s not commenting on an independent legal process.
“The Chinese are likely to play tit-fortat on this one and we should be ready for it,” said Fen Hampson, the director of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation based in southern Ontario.
The CSE warned in a study for the Liberal government last year that cyberthreat activity against the democratic process is increasing around the world, and Canada is not immune. An updated version will be issued next spring, just months before Canadians go to the polls.
Considerable evidence has pointed to online Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In September of last year, Facebook said hundreds of dubious accounts, likely operated out of Russia, spent about $100,000 on some 3,000 ads about contentious issues such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and guns from June 2015 to May 2017. Millions of people in the United States saw the ads.
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department has announced indictments against Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking Democratic party emails and computers during the 2016 campaign.
In its report, the centre lays out the cyberthreats to Canadian businesses, critical infrastructure and public institutions gleaned through CSE data, general expertise and an assessment of the overall landscape.
“The intention is not to scare Canadians away from using technology,” centre head Scott Jones told a news conference. “The assessment is meant to inform Canadians of the threats they face, and will be used as a basis for simple things we can each do to make ourselves more secure.”
That can simply mean keeping anti-virus software updated, being cautious before clicking on links or checking the source of information to ensure it is credible.
“I’m not saying delete your accounts and move back to sending postcards,” Jones said. “I’m saying, just consume it with a critical eye and look for a more trusted source.”