Stratford activist group alleges Chinese glass maker Xinyi is national security threat
Group wants federal minister to review $400-million deal under Investment Canada Act
A Stratford, Ont., citizens' group is demanding the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology conduct a review of glassmaker Xinyi Canada, alleging the Chinese-owned company behind a proposal to build a float glass factory in the community is a threat to national security.
In an open letter to Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Navdeep Bains, Wise Communities Stratford calls Xinyi Canada's proposal for the factory in Stratford, Ont. "injurious to national security."
The company has proposed a $400-million float glass manufacturing facility on Stratford's urban rim, triggering weekly protests from angry demonstrators in the city and igniting a controversy that has engulfed both Stratford city hall and the provincial government.
Critics say city and provincial politicians subverted the democratic process when Mayor Dan Mathieson requested a Minister's Zoning Order, or MZO, in April to clear legal hurdles for the proposed factory, which critics claim would more than double the size of the community's carbon footprint.
Citizens' group demands federal intervention
On Monday, Wise Communities Stratford demanded Bains' office review the $400-million proposal under Section 25 of the Investment Canada Act, which allows the federal government to intervene on a proposed business deal with foreign investors when it suspects the nation's economic security is in jeopardy.
"We want more information, particularly about the ownership," said Patrick O'Rourke, a retired lawyer and Stratford resident who co-signed the letter with Loreena McKennitt, the founder of Wise Communities Stratford.
"The ownership of the company is basically a bit of a network of holding companies and sub-entities, almost all of which are registered in the Cayman Islands or Virgin Islands and many of the principals involved in those companies have overt links, either to the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party," O'Rourke told CBC News Monday.
If his allegations against the company prove to be true, it would be enough to give the federal government grounds to give the Stratford glass factory proposal closer scrutiny under the law.
CBC News contacted Xinyi North America at the company's Markham, Ont., office Monday, but the company did not return a request for comment.
Group raises thorny issue of intellectual property theft
O'Rourke said his group also has concerns over what the company's plans to build what it calls a "research and development centre" at the proposed glass factory site, something he said was not included in any similar glass factories built by the company in other countries.
While there's no evidence to suggest the company intends to use the facility for anything other than its stated purpose, O'Rourke cited the long history of China being accused of stealing valuable technology and trade secrets from the West as something he suggests should be on the federal government's radar when it makes the decision on whether to review the proposal.
"There's a lot of concern in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. government has deported a number of Chinese scientists and researchers because of overt links to either the government or the party in China."
O'Rourke said the issue is particularly thorny in Stratford, which is one of the most digitally-connected cities in the country and a testing ground for the development of autonomous vehicles in Canada.
"We raise that, not because there's any evidence, but we just don't know and would like to find out."
Carbon-intensive factory 'counterintuitive' in green economy
O'Rourke said, if built, the process to create float glass is extremely energy intensive and requires vast amounts of natural gas to create enough heat to float molten glass over a layer of molten metal.
"The plant would more than double the CO2 emissions from the Stratford area," he said, noting the construction of the plant would only undermine federal government plans to make significant investments in the green economy.
"The idea that a new energy intensive industry with significant CO2 emissions would be welcomed seems counterintuitive to the federal government's whole thrust of a green economy."
Loreena McKennitt, a Stratford resident, well-known Canadian composer and the founder of Wise Communities Stratford, told CBC News Monday that all the group really wants is to know the proposal was given proper scrutiny.
She said the MZO issued by the Ontario government has quashed much of the civic process around the proposal, so citizens are unsure whether it was given full the consideration by government officials.
"They really don't know who has put this company through its paces," she said. "The Minister has until the end of the year to look at this one more time and we think there is enough reason for them to do it."
"I think citizens are very upset and uncomfortable with so many things with the phrase 'just trust us,' but we have to see, especially when the stakes are so high."
John Power, a spokesman for Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Navdeep Bains' office, told CBC News in an email Monday that while the Investment Canada Act provides an opportunity to review significant foreign investments to ensure they would be of overall economic benefit to Canada, he was unable to comment further on the case.
"Each proposed investment is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and on its own merits," he wrote.
"Due to the confidentiality provisions of the Investment Canada Act, we cannot comment on specific transactions."