Opening Remarks

Speaking Notes for The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Appearance before the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations

Ottawa, Ontario
February 25, 2021

Good Afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, and thank you for inviting me to be here today.

I want to start by thanking you for the great work you've been doing since this committee was created a year ago.

I've been following your hearings closely and they've been very helpful in shedding light on the vast multitude of issues involving our relationship with China.

As you know, Canada is home to a large Chinese-Canadian community.

China is also a player on global issues of importance to Canada, and offers economic opportunities for Canadian businesses.

I want to emphasize that none of my remarks are directed towards Chinese-Canadians.

I feel it is important to emphasize because we have seen a disturbing rise of racist and discriminatory actions directed towards people of Asian origin for no reason other than their ethnicity.

This is completely wrong and abhorrent, and it must stop.

We need to be careful about the words we use.

We are here to talk about relationships with the Chinese government.

When it fails to uphold its international obligations, we need to be forceful in our response.

No one has forgotten that the Chinese government continues to arbitrarily detain Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Earlier this week, in fact, in his meeting with the Prime Minister, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his government's support for the two Michaels, and committed to working for their release.

We know that foreign interference in Canada has been a reality for many people.

In December, in a letter addressed to all MPs here, and subsequently tabled in the House of Commons, I took an important step by publicly outlining the threats related to foreign interference, and the critical work of the security and intelligence community.

This follows steps that the Prime Minister took in permitting the unclassified, publicly-released version of the NSICOP report to, for the first time, specifically name countries that are particularly active in Canada, such as the government of China.

As an independent review body with a broad mandate, this committee plays an important national security role.

Its members include both Senators and Members of Parliament, all of whom hold Top Secret security clearances.

This enables them to receive classified briefings and materials related to the conduct of the committee's work.

We will continue to raise awareness so that Canadians, businesses and academics have the information and the tools necessary to support themselves, while our agencies collect information to support investigations.

This is because foreign interference activities of any kind undermine our values and democratic institutions, threaten our sovereignty, our economic prosperity and the safety of Canadians.

They are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

We are actively and carefully monitoring the situation, including identifying new ways in which foreign interference may be threatening our country.

A number of organizations in my portfolio, CSIS, the RCMP and Public Safety Canada in particular, are involved in the work to address foreign interference in all its forms.

Both CSIS and the RCMP apply the full measures of their mandates in investigating potential risks to Canadian interests, responding to threats, and keeping Canadians safe from harm and intimidation.

CSIS and the RCMP also have reporting mechanisms in place for anyone who would like to report a threat to national security, including foreign interference.

I can assure you that we remain vigilant.

We are prepared to act – and we are acting – against threats.

And we will continue to work closely with our partners domestically and internationally, including the Five Eyes and other allies, on foreign interference.

While foreign interference is top of mind for my portfolio, it is by no means the only issue on our plate.

It's no secret that China is one of the main source countries of fentanyl, as well as the precursor chemicals used to make this highly potent synthetic opioid.

Illegal fentanyl and other fentanyl-like drugs are being mixed in with, and contaminating, other drugs.

And this continues to be a major driving factor in the overdose crisis that has tragically cut so many lives short in our country.

The CBSA uses intelligence as well as a variety of detection tools, techniques, and the latest in scientific technology to prevent the cross-border smuggling of illicit drugs, including toxic substances like fentanyl.

Over the past four fiscal years, the CBSA has made 335 seizures of fentanyl, totaling 42.24 kg.

In 129 of the seizures, China was listed as the country of purchase.

For its part, the RCMP has established an Organized Crime Joint Operations Centre, with the CBSA and Canada Post, to track, identify and take enforcement action against the importation of illicit opioids.

In 2017 we passed legislation that permits our officers, with reasonable grounds, to search international mail weighing under 30g to prevent opioids from illegally crossing our borders.

The RCMP and the CBSA are also working with international law enforcement partners to investigate and disrupt the illegal export of fentanyl and precursor chemicals to Canada.

With respect to China, the RCMP, the CBSA and their counterparts have agreed to collaborate to target fentanyl trafficking.

Let me now turn to another issue of interest to this committee.

I know that 5G technology has come up in your hearings, and the Government of Canada is under no illusions about its security challenges.

Canada already has a high level of cyber security for our 3G and 4G/LTE networks, thanks to the Government's Security Review Program for Canadian telecommunications networks, which is run by the Communications Security Establishment.

And while I can't comment on specific companies, an interdepartmental, country and company-agnostic examination of 5G technology is in progress.

The examination is taking into consideration technical and security factors, including advice from our security agencies, allies and partners.

We will make a decision in due course that is in the best interests of Canadians, and that ensures that only trusted technology is used in Canadian networks.

Mr. Chair, these are just a few of the China-related priority issues we are working on in the public safety and national security realm.

I'd be happy to answer your questions.

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