Jean-Michel Leclerc, centre, lead engineer of the Radarsat Constellation Mission is seen with two of the three satellites at the MDA facility Thursday, June 21, 2018 in Montreal. The federal government says it is stepping up efforts to protect Canadian intellectual property and research, as well as strategically important businesses from espionage and foreign interference activities. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada moves to protect intellectual property and research from espionage

With Canada’s intellectual property and world-class research “increasingly targeted by espionage and foreign interference activities,” the federal government is moving to “protect the country’s national security, long-term economic competitiveness and prosperity” with new guidelines on research security, officials say.

In a joint statement released Thursday, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, and Health Minister Patty Hajdu released the Trudeau government’s new policy statement on research security.

The statement outlines the next steps that the government will take to balance openness and collaboration with appropriate safeguards for Canadian researchers’ knowledge, data and intellectual property, they said.

The policy encourages “all members of the research community – including those in government, academia, and the private sector – to take extra precautions to protect the security of their research, intellectual property, and knowledge development.”

“The strength of our research ecosystem is recognized globally, and this ecosystem needs to be protected,” Champagne said in a statement. “That’s why the Government of Canada is taking the steps needed to make sure Canadian researchers have the tools they need to mitigate potential risks and safeguard the knowledge and intellectual property they generate.”

Blair said there is a growing awareness of the potential security risks targeting scientific research, data and intellectual property.

“All organizations, in particular those involved in COVID-19 research, should remain vigilant and alert to potential threats, as outlined in the September 14, 2020 Government of Canada Policy Statement on Research Security and COVID-19,” the statement said, referring to the government’s earlier warning about efforts by foreign state actors to steal cutting-edge Canadian research.

Ottawa calls for vigilance and beefed up security protocols

Canada’s spy agencies are investigating possible cyber breaches at institutions working on COVID-19. The agencies are also concerned about intellectual and research theft through foreign investments in Canadian firms. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“Espionage and foreign interference activities by both human and cyber actors pose real threats to Canadian research integrity, intellectual property and business interests,” the federal government warned in the September 2020 update.

“Canadian research organizations should remain vigilant and ensure that they are applying best practices for securing their research and intellectual property, including employing strong cybersecurity and physical security protocols.”

The policy statement comes on the heels of Wednesday’s release of revised federal guidelines laying out new areas of concern for Ottawa as it scrutinizes foreign takeovers and investments in key sectors of the economy as well as funding of high-end research.

“As we work with businesses to help them recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian companies may look to global capital to help support their growth,” Champagne said Wednesday.

“Foreign direct investment allows many of Canada’s cutting-edge, intellectual property–intensive firms to scale up and reach global customers.”

However, the federal government has to ensure such investment does not bring with it national security threats by allowing foreign states access to sensitive personal data, technology for manufacturing sensitive technologies that form part of critical supply chains, Champagne added.

There is a growing concern among security experts in Canada and other Western countries that China, in particular, has used its state-owned or state-influenced private companies to buy up Western companies a way of accessing critical technologies and knowhow.

The federal government will increase scrutiny of investments by foreign state-owned or state-influenced investors in Canadian companies that collect sensitive personal data, certain dual-use technologies and critical minerals, Champagne said.

The renewed guidelines will provide additional transparency and clarity for Canadian businesses and foreign investors, he added.

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