Politics

As Conservatives call for crackdown, O'Toole calls Chinese influence a grave 'threat' to Canada

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today Canada must crack down on the growing influence of the Chinese communist regime, adding there's "no greater threat to Canada's interests than the rise of China" in global affairs.

Conservatives to table motion to pressure Canada to ban Huawei, tackle proliferation of Chinese agents

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. O'Toole is urging the Liberal government to take a harder line on China. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said today Canada must crack down on the growing influence of the Chinese communist regime, adding there's "no greater threat to Canada's interests than the rise of China" in global affairs.

O'Toole said the western world has tolerated China's human rights abuses, intellectual property theft and manipulative trade practices for decades in order to gain access to the country's burgeoning economy. He said it's time for Canada and its closest allies to adopt a more aggressive posture.

"The democratic world must acknowledge that the approach to China over the last two decades has not worked. In fact, the situation has gotten worse," O'Toole told reporters on Parliament Hill.

He said the move to normalize relations and admit China to the World Trade Organization has had "catastrophic impacts for Canadian workers."

"We falsely believed that ignoring the sharp edges of communism would, over time, smooth them out by putting trade ahead of our values."

Conservative MP Michael Chong, the party's foreign affairs critic, will table a motion today to put pressure on the Liberal government to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from building Canada's 5G network. Most of the country's wireless providers have opted already to work with Sweden-based Ericsson.

Huawei's founder has close ties to China's communist leadership and intelligence partners have long warned that the company's technology could be used to spy on Canadians. O'Toole said Huawei's global success is due in part to "years of industrial espionage" against the now-defunct Canadian tech giant Nortel.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the government's final decision on Huawei will be based on the recommendations of Canada's intelligence agencies. "We've worked with our allies and we've consulted broadly," he said.

The former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Ward Elcock, has said Huawei and all Chinese technology firms like it pose a significant risk to worldwide intelligence collection.

Watch: Bains says the federal government "will not be bullied or intimidated by any country.":

Bains on Huawei

1 year ago
1:12
Industry Minister Navdeep Bains says the federal government "will not be bullied or intimidated by any country" when it comes to its decision on Huawei. 1:12

The Conservative motion, if passed, also would compel the Liberal government to develop a comprehensive plan to protect Canada from "the growing influence of Chinese agents" on our soil.

O'Toole said Canada has tolerated the proliferation of Confucius Institutes — state-backed Chinese language centres — that push state propaganda.

O'Toole said Canadian university professors have been bullied into weakening their teachings on human rights abuses for fear of offending mainland Chinese students, while pro-Beijing media outlets have disseminated anti-western narratives.

"Canadians of Chinese origin have been threatened by foreign agents in our country. Anti-Hong Kong protests were organized in Canada to bully democracy activists. Uighur students in our universities have been de-platformed and menaced in coordinated actions led by Chinese consulates across our country," he said.

"And the very values we hold dear, like openness, justice and tolerance, have been weaponized against us."

O'Toole pointed to Australia's foreign interference law as something to emulate here. That country passed legislation in 2018 to toughen penalties on espionage while also requiring individuals or organizations acting in the interests of foreign powers to register and disclose their ties — part of an effort to reduce meddling by China in Australia's politics, universities and media.

Under the legislation, it is illegal for a person to knowingly engage in covert conduct or deception on behalf of a "foreign principal." The first arrest under this law was made earlier this month when a prominent Chinese-Australian community activist was accused of trying to influence the country's immigration minister.

Speaking later in question period, Trudeau said Canada has a "complex multi-dimensional relationship with China" and the country deals with Beijing "with eyes wide open."

"We will remain firm in defending our principles and interests and always will," he said, adding that Canada's security agencies have been working with universities and colleges to address new Chinese threats to those institutions.

"Canada has among the best security agencies in the world. The folks who work for our agencies work every single day to keep Canadians safe. Not all of it appears in the newspapers. On the contrary, a lot of the work that is done in important situations is never heard about at all," he said.

Watch: Conservative MP Michael Chong says the federal government is "paralyzed by indecision" on Huawei:

'Presenting a threat to Canada's national security.'

1 year ago
2:04
Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic Michael Chong says the federal government is "paralyzed by indecision" on Huawei and 5G. 2:04

Asked if passing such a motion would further damage already shaky bilateral relations between Canada and China, O'Toole said that while he's concerned about the status of two Canadians held in Chinese prisons, the current government's approach hasn't yielded results.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been held in China for 708 days. "A weak response by Mr. Trudeau has not led to any progress in the case of the two Michaels," O'Toole said. "A more principled, a stronger approach may make progress."

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

China has retaliated against countries that have criticized its behaviour through trade action. O'Toole said Canada shouldn't be intimidated by such threats.

"Canada should work very closely with our Five Eyes allies ... so that it's difficult for China to use its immense economic size to intimidate smaller economies like Canada," O'Toole said, citing the intelligence-sharing alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

"We may be a smaller economy in comparison with China but we are a giant when it comes to the rights we hold dear, human rights, the rule of law and the security of our citizens."

O'Toole said Canada must strengthen its relationship with other Asian economies — Canada joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 — and bolster trade with India. "We need to look for new markets," he said.

The motion comes days after the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights released a report condemning China for committing genocidal acts against the Uighur Muslim minority. Canada's ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, said Sunday he would encourage the body's human rights committee to probe the plight of China's Uighur population.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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