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Canada's government will review RCMP equipment contract with ties to China: Trudeau

OTTAWA — The federal government is reviewing an RCMP equipment contract with a company that has ties to China's government, the prime minister said Wednesday.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference, in Djerba, Tunisia on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. Trudeau says the federal government is reviewing an RCMP equipment contract with a company that has ties to China's government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The federal government is reviewing an RCMP equipment contract with a company that has ties to China's government, the prime minister said Wednesday. 

Radio-Canada reported that the federal Procurement Department awarded a $549,637 contract to Ontario-based Sinclair Technologies last year to build and maintain a radio frequency filtering system for the Mounties.

Sinclair Technologies' parent company, Norsat International, has been owned by Chinese telecommunications firm Hytera since 2017. The Chinese government owns about 10 per cent of Hytera through an investment fund.

At a press conference in Montreal Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he found it disconcerting that while some government security agencies have warned about foreign interference in Canadian institutions, other parts of the civil service would sign a contract with "questionable levels of security" for the RCMP.

Trudeau said he has "real questions" for the public servants who signed the contract and his government plans to review the process to make sure federal contracts are not leaving Canada exposed to security threats.

A Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson said the department did not take security concerns and Sinclair's ownership into consideration during the bidding process, Radio-Canada reported. 

In a written statement, Martine Cardozo, sales director for Sinclair Technologies, said the company is independently registered and operating in Canada and its products are trusted by public safety experts globally.

Cardozo declined to comment further, citing client confidentiality. 

The United States Federal Communications Commission banned the use of Hytera technology for the purpose of public safety, government security and surveillance of critical infrastructure in 2021 when it was deemed a risk to national security. 

In February, Hytera was indicted on 21 counts in an espionage case after officials alleged that the company stole trade secrets from U.S.-based competitor Motorola Solutions. Hytera has denied the allegations.

"It is astonishing to me that Justin Trudeau's contracting system would have allowed a company whose parent owner in the United States is charged with 21 different espionage offences, to install technology on our police force's system in order to block espionage," Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in a rare exchange with the press outside the House of Commons Wednesday.

The contract must be cancelled, said Poilievre, who insisted the prime minister take responsibility.

"I mean, it's almost something that you'd expect to be out of a spy novel, but characters in spy novels would never be that incompetent," he said.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he has instructed his staff to look closely at the contract and the process by which it was awarded.

"We’re eyes wide open about the threats that are posed by hostile state and non-state actors," Mendicino said after a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday.

"One of the reasons why we put in place a process that looks at the potential opportunities, or vectors, for foreign interference in the context of contracts is to secure Canadian national interest, to secure our national security."

Radio-Canada reported that the RCMP expressed confidence in the security of the system and said any contractors involved needed to obtain a security clearance.

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said government needs to apply a level of scrutiny when it comes to "geopolitical challenges with respect to China."

"We need to remain more vigilant to prevent things like that, understand the why and how something can happen," he said outside of the Liberal caucus meeting.

Conservative deputy whip Chris Warkentin called the contract "incomprehensible" and called for an immediate review.

"Just last week they came out with significant announcements that said that they were going to get serious about Canadian security. This violates every reasonable thought that any person would have when it comes to national security," he said. 

Sinclair Technologies, the RCMP and the Procurement Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Canadian Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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