Foreign Interference – Harassment on university campuses
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
On February 22, 2021, parliamentarians raised the issue of malign Chinese state activities on campuses in Canada at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM).
- Canada’s academic institutions are centres of excellence which rely on open, creative, and collaborative environments to innovate and develop understanding of critical issues.
- Some foreign intelligence services and government officials, including of China, can exploit this culture of openness to monitor and coerce students, faculty and other university officials.
- In some instances, students are pressured to participate in activities, which are covertly organised by a foreign power. Universities can also be used as venues for “talent-spotting” and intelligence collection, in specific circumstances.
- When foreign states manipulate or intimidate Canadian community groups in order to influence their opinions or behaviours, these activities constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians.
- I can assure Canadians that our security and intelligence agencies are working very hard to protect Canadian communities, as well as research and academic institutions, by ensuring they understand the threat and that those at risk have the necessary tools to protect themselves.
- Those targeted by these activities may be unaware that they can report these activities to Canadian authorities. Any Canadian who feels threatened or intimidated by a person acting on behalf of a foreign country is strongly encouraged to contact their local police at the earliest possible opportunity. These concerns will be dealt with in a serious and appropriate manner.
- In addition, both CSIS and the RCMP have telephone and online reporting mechanisms for anyone who would like to report a threat to national security, including foreign interference.
Foreign interference is understood as hostile activity undertaken by foreign states that is purposely covert, malign, clandestine and deceptive. It can include threats, harassment and intimidation. These activities can be directed at Canadians, or residents of Canada, or against Canadian institutions to advance their strategic interests at the expense of our national interest and values.
Through its mandate to investigate threats to the security of Canada, CSIS has seen multiple instances of foreign states targeting Canadian institutions and communities. The scope of potential foreign interference activities can be broad, encompassing a range of techniques that are familiar to intelligence agencies. These include: human intelligence operations, the use of state-sponsored or foreign influenced media, and the use of sophisticated cyber tools.
Foreign threat actors—most notably hostile states and state-sponsored actors—are targeting Canada’s open and transparent institutions, including colleges and universities. The United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party is used by the PRC to stifle criticism, infiltrate foreign political parties, diaspora communities, universities and multinational corporations. The UFWD’s importance to the Chinese Communist Party has grown in recent years under President Xi, as 40,000 new staff have been added.
Your open letter to all Members of Parliament, outlining the threat of foreign interference, and what the Government is doing to address it, was sent on December 18, 2020 in response to the motion introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills) that was passed on November 18, 2020. The letter pointed to the PRC as being particularly active in Canada. It was also tabled in the House of Commons on January 25, 2021. The motion reads:
That, given that (i) the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, is threatening Canada’s national interest and our values, including Canadians of Chinese origin within Canada’s borders, (ii) it is essential that Canada have a strong and principled foreign policy backed by action in concert with its allies, the House call upon the government to: (a) make a decision on Huawei’s involvement in Canada’s 5G network within 30 days of the adoption of this motion; and (b) develop a robust plan, as Australia has done, to combat China’s growing foreign operations here in Canada and its increasing intimidation of Canadians living in Canada, and table it within 30 days of the adoption of this motion.
The Government of Canada’s security and intelligence community is combatting these threats within their respective mandates. For example, CSIS has longstanding investigations into foreign interference threat activities targeting democratic processes and institutions across Canada. The provision of CSIS intelligence and assessments to senior levels of government allows for informed decision making when responding to and developing policies to address these threats. Likewise, the RCMP has a broad, multi-faceted mandate that allows it to investigate, and prevent foreign interference drawing upon various legislation.
Prepared by: NSOD
Approved by: Dominic Rochon, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, 613-990-4976 (pending)
- Date modified: