Goodale dismisses report that Canada will ban Huawei from 5G as 'speculation'
Minister also says new cybersecurity standards for businesses coming in the new year
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is calling reports that Canada will join some of its Five Eyes allies in banning the telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G network "speculation."
This week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Ottawa is expected to announce a formal ban on tech firm Huawei and ZTE, China's second-largest telecommunications equipment maker, within weeks.
The Australian paper said the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance met in Nova Scotia in July to discuss what to do about Huawei.
Asked about the reported gathering, Goodale said he "was not part of that meeting."
"That's a meeting that involved the security agencies, I gather, but ministers were not there," he added.
But he dismissed talk of a ban as "speculation."
"The issues are being very carefully considered by Canadians. We have not arrived at a conclusion," he told CBC Radio's The House.
Most of Canada's partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance have taken action against the telecommunications firm.
New Zealand and Australia have banned the use of Huawei products in their 5G network development, fearing Huawei could use its access to spy for the Chinese government. In August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill imposing restrictions on government contracts with Huawei and ZTE, citing national security concerns.
And earlier this month, the U.K.'s BT Group said it would remove Huawei equipment from its existing 3G and 4G mobile operations.
Canada is conducting a comprehensive review of the 5G technology movement, which is expected to bring faster connections and greater data capacity.
Goodale was asked about the Australian report following a wide-ranging national security speech to the Empire Club in Toronto today, which touched on Canada's digital infrastructure.
"Digital technologies enrich our lives in countless ways and underlying them is complex infrastructure upon which our economy and modern society depend ... our most sensitive personal and financial information is floating in a cloud," Goodale told the crowd, adding foreign states, militaries, terror groups, organized crime and petty thieves try to hack Canada's digital infrastructure millions of times a day.
The crucial point is the weakest link.It can bring down the whole house of cards and do irreparable harm.- Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale
"Imagine the damage that would ensue if a major digital infrastructure system were to be compromised — in telecommunications, for example, or banking, or transportation, or healthcare or energy transmission."
Some national security experts have warned against giving a Chinese company access to such critical infrastructure.
The government has not said yet when that 5G review report is due. Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne told the Canadian Press the government doesn't want to rush it.
Five Eyes have raised concerns
Huawei has long insisted that it is not a state-controlled company and denies engaging in intelligence work for the Chinese government. However, Chinese law dictates that companies must "support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work."
Canada's relationship with Huawei is under heightened pressure now after officials arrested the company's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the U.S.
This week, the Conservative Opposition urged the Trudeau government to keep Huawei away from Canada's 5G infrastructure.
"This is a major security threat, and this government refuses to do anything about it," said Conservative MP Dan Albas.
Earlier this month, Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault said his agency already has seen a trend emerging of state-sponsored espionage in fields like artificial intelligence, quantum technology and 5G wireless tech.
Business standards coming
Goodale also hinted at new legislation that would set cybersecurity standards for Canadian companies.
"The crucial point is the weakest link. It can bring down the whole house of cards and do irreparable harm. Those links need to be avoided to the maximum extent possible," he said in his speech.
He later clarified that the new legislation, coming in the new year, would lay out corporate and business responsibilities to prevent cyber attacks.
The standards would cover companies' online practices and customer and employee procedures.
"In most of these hacking incidents, the hacker is exploiting a defect or a gap in the security system a company has set up," he said.
- This story has been updated from a previous version to include a full quotation from the minister about the reported meeting.Dec 15, 2018 1:12 PM ET
With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters