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RCMP suspends contract with Ontario company linked to China

Police teams conduct surveillance above the Department of National Defence headquarters before the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014.
Police teams conduct surveillance above the Department of National Defence headquarters before the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014. Photo by Justin Tang /The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Department of National Defence says it is taking a second look at several contracts awarded to an Ontario company with links to China as part of a broader government review of Ottawa’s dealings with Sinclair Technologies.

“We are investigating these procurements and the way in which this equipment is used, alongside counterparts in other government departments,” Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in a statement Thursday.

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“The government will take all measures necessary to ensure the security of our infrastructure.”

The review follows a Radio-Canada report that the company based in Aurora, Ont., was awarded a contract to provide the RCMP with a radio frequency filtering system last year.

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

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 U.S. officials alleged that the company stole trade secrets from U.S.-based competitor Motorola Solutions. Hytera has denied the allegations.

The Canadian Defence Department has awarded a number of contracts to Sinclair over the past decade, including one last year for the supply of antennas to Canada’s two main naval bases: Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C. The rest predate Hytera’s purchase of Norsat.

Sinclair spokeswoman Martine Cardozo declined to comment on Thursday.

While the RCMP has not responded to repeated requests for comment, Radio-Canada reported that the agency expressed confidence in the security of the system and said any contractors involved needed to obtain a security clearance.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters following a cabinet meeting that the radio equipment was installed by the RCMP, which is also monitoring and maintaining it, “so there are some very direct controls over the equipment itself.”

However, he added that the federal government is looking at its dealings with Sinclair and the way the RCMP contract was awarded to ensure proper security checks were done.

“There’s no doubt that there are very legitimate concerns around the way in which the contract was awarded, which is why we’re looking very carefully, very closely at it,” Mendicino said.

“Obviously, if there were any concerns or if there was any flaws in this process around the contract, then there should be very quick and immediate steps taken to suspend or cancel the contract altogether.”

The RCMP contract with Sinclair also came up during a House of Commons defence committee meeting, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser Jody Thomas was appearing to testify on Arctic security.

“We are looking into what happened with that contract,” Thomas said. “The terms of reference for the review we’re doing, we’re just creating them. I’m still gathering information from the departments involved.”

China came up repeatedly during the defence committee meeting, where Thomas indicated that Beijing’s ambitions in the Arctic stem from its desire to secure shorter shipping routes to Europe and take advantage of the region’s vast natural resource reserves.

“They have a voracious appetite for hydrocarbons, for rare earth minerals and for fish,” she said. “They see (the Arctic) as a critical element of their sustainability as a nation. So we have to ensure that the rich resources in the Canadian Arctic are protected.”

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