Border agency using radio equipment from Chinese company banned in the United States

For the past five-and-a-half years, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has used equipment and communications technology from controversial Chinese company Hytera Communications — a company that the US government banned because it deemed it illegal. It is a threat to national security.

In response to a CBC question about CBSA’s use of Hytera equipment and technology, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he has asked all parts of his portfolio to review any purchases. subsequent purchases in relation to Hytera or its subsidiaries. controversy over a similar RCMP contract with one of Hytera’s subsidiaries.

“I have directed my department to conduct a full scan and review of the portfolio for any other potential similar contracts that may have been awarded, so that we can take any steps necessary. necessary to minimize any risks that may exist,” Mendicino said Monday. .

“That will apply right across all departments, including the CBSA.”

CBC News/Radio-Canada learned that at the Fort Erie Peace Bridge in the Niagara Region, CBSA officers were equipped with radios manufactured by Hytera, a telecommunications company based in Shenzhen, China. The Chinese government owns about 10% of Hytera through an investment fund.

Hytera products are prohibited for sale and import in the United States. US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blacklisted the company for posing “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of the American people.”

Hytera is the owner of Ontario-based Sinclair Technologies. The federal government faced a number of questions about national security earlier this month when Radio-Canada reports under a contract between Sinclair and RCMP to supply Mounties with radio frequency (RF) filtering equipment.

RCMP has suspended the contract and Mounties say they are reviewing the RF equipment they have installed.

In February 2017, Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) contract award under $3 million for Canquest Communications of Chatham, Ont., to provide digital cellular radio and radio communications infrastructure for CBSA in the Niagara Region, including four entry points.

A spokesperson for Procurement and Public Services Canada said the contract with Canquest does not include any confidentiality requirements.

Canquest worked with Hytera Canada to build radio communications infrastructure and sold Hytera radio equipment to CBSA.

“Hytera’s Tier III Pro design architecture is well-suited for large-scale public safety service,” says Hytera press release 2017 on contract.

Canquest CEO John Smith speak with Chatham voice announced in 2017 that Hytera’s technology “has brought [Canquest] advantage” in winning the bid.

“Hytera is a progressive company,” Smith said in the article. “They provide the Chinese police force with walkie-talkies. It’s extremely versatile technology.”

Three of Niagara’s gateways no longer use Hytera equipment, but the Peace Bridge entrance is and will not transition to new radio equipment and new networks until March 2023.

The CBSA border crossing at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie. Border agents at Peace Bridge will continue to use Hytera equipment until at least March 2023 after the CBSA renews their procurement contracts. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

In response to questions from CBC/Radio-Canada, CBSA spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy said the Peace Bridge border crossing had not been converted due to technical issues that emerged during wireless network testing. new lines and equipment.

She said the CBSA has conducted its own security review of Hytera equipment and technology.

“At the time the contract was signed in 2017, CBSA was aware that Canquest, a Canadian company, was a reseller of Hytera equipment,” she said in an emailed statement.

“CBSA takes communication security seriously and has formal processes in place to assess communications security and reduce risk. To date, these formal processes have not identified any any risk to the Peace Bridge facility.”

CBSA did not provide answers to CBC/Radio-Canada follow-up questions about the nature of that security review at the time this story was published.

Smith referred CBC/Radio Canada to the CBSA for comment. Hytera Canada did not respond to CBC/Radio-Canada’s request for comment.

Shortly after CBC/Radio-Canada sent questions to the CBSA, Alexander Cohen, Mendicino’s press secretary, sent out a statement email.

“We can confirm that Canada Border Services Agency’s contract with Canquest Communications will expire in the near future and the Agency will replace its equipment with technology from another supplier,” said Cohen. said in the statement.

A spokesman for the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s signals intelligence agency, said CSE has never been asked to perform a security review of the equipment or the contract.

Hytera is facing 21 charges related to espionage in the United States. US Department of Justice accused the company plot to steal technology from the American telecommunications company Motorola.

Public contract with Chinese company scrutinized

The controversy over Hytera’s role in Canada’s security infrastructure comes at a time of heightened tensions between Canada and China. The federal government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, Released earlier this year, calling for a more aggressive Canadian foreign policy toward Beijing. The Chinese government has condemned this strategy.

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said earlier this month that the RCMP’s contract with Sinclair was inconsistent with the government’s approach to China outlined in the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

House Standing Committee on Industry and Technology called recently Mendicino appeared before the committee to answer questions about the RCMP contract with Sinclair.

The commission is also seeking to question François-Philippe Champagne, the minister of innovation, science and industry, about why Hytera was able to buy Norsat International — Sinclair’s parent company — in 2017 without consideration. government national security review of the transaction.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne and Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino hold a press conference in Ottawa on May 19, 2022. A committee of the House of Commons is seeking questioning. both ministers on the impact of Chinese technology and equipment on Canadian national security. (David Kawai/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to criticisms of the RCMP’s Sinclair contract by saying the civil agency should be held accountable for it and committed to changes to public procurement.

“Of course, we will first figure out what needs to be done to make sure that our communications technology is secure, but also make sure we are looking into whether this could continue to happen. like and make sure that Canada doesn’t contract with the lowest bidder, then come back and expose us to security flaws,” Trudeau said earlier this month.

“We’re going to have some real questions about the independent public service that signed these contracts, and we’re going to make sure this changes in the future. It’s time for that to happen. “

The federal government forbids Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from Canada’s 5G infrastructure earlier this year. Huawei is one of the Chinese companies that the FCC has banned.


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