Canada's spy agency suspects that cabinet ministers in two provinces are under the control of foreign governments, CBC News has learned.
Several members of B.C. municipal governments are also under suspicion, Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told CBC News in an exclusive interview.
"We're in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication that there's some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries," Fadden said.
"The individual becomes in a position to make decisions that affect the country or the province or a municipality. All of a sudden, decisions aren't taken on the basis of the public good but on the basis of another country's preoccupations."
He said the politicians and public servants see it as a long-standing relationship and have no idea they are being used.
"There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia and in at least two provinces there are ministers of the Crown who we think are under at least the general influence of a foreign government."
Fadden said the agency is in the process of discussing with the Privy Council Office the best way to inform those provinces there may be a problem.
"We'll do the same with the public servants. I'm making this comment because I think it's a real danger that people be totally oblivious to this kind of issue."
Fadden warned that foreign regimes — through universities and social clubs — will develop a relationship with people who have a connection to the homeland.
"You invite somebody back to the homeland. You pay [for] their trips and all of a sudden you discover that when an event is occurring that is of particular interest to country "X," you call up and you ask the person to take a particular view," Fadden said.
At least five countries are surreptitiously recruiting future political prospects in universities, he said. Middle East countries are also involved.
But China is the most aggressive, funding university clubs that are managed by people operating out of the embassy or consulates, Fadden said in a recent speech to Canadian police chiefs and security experts in Toronto.
Chinese authorities also organize demonstrations against the Canadian government in respect to some of Canada's policies concerning China, Fadden said.
"A number of countries take the view that if they can develop influence with people relatively early in their careers, they'll follow them through," Fadden said. "Before you know it, a country is providing them with money, there's some sort of covert guidance."
Fadden said he is concerned that too much of the agency's resources are focused on fighting terrorism and not counter-espionage. That concentration leaves more chances to steal Canada's sensitive technology and trade secrets, worth billions of dollars a year.
"The difficulty I have, as does everybody, is you have to balance where you allocate resources, but it most definitely is as serious problem, and if I had to guess, I'd say it was going to get worse," Fadden said.