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Canadian military won’t block Chinese surveillance cameras banned by U.S.

Hikvision surveillance cameras outside the Hikvision headquarters in Hangzhou, in east China's Zhejiang province. STR/AFP via Getty Images
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Canada’s military will not block the use of Chinese surveillance cameras, after the U.S. banned them over concerns Beijing could use them to identify government workers and steal sensitive information. And the military does not know whether any cameras made by Chinese firms are already being used in Canadian military buildings or installations. 

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“This information is not readily available, as there are multiple contracts and purchases for different locations and bases across Canada,” said Department of National Defence (DND) spokesperson Jessica Lamirande. DND does not have a central directory detailing which camera brands are used in the 20,000 buildings it operates. 

DND said it has multiple safety procedures in place for equipment. In the case of security systems like cameras, the department purchases them through Public Services and Procurement Canada. A recent contract for surveillance cameras at Canadian Forces Base Comox, on Vancouver Island, states that bidding firms need “secret” security clearance, and that the successful bidder may not issue subcontracts containing security requirements without written permission from the government. Nanaimo, B.C.-based Houle Electric won the contract. 

Public Safety Canada, meanwhile, which oversees security agencies including CSIS and the RCMP, did not directly answer questions about whether it is using surveillance cameras made by Chinese firms or plans to introduce U.S.-style restrictions. 

“Individual departments are responsible for defining, documenting, and maintaining departmental security practices for procurement of assets based on department-wide security requirements that apply to all contracts or arrangements,” said spokesperson Zarah Malik. 

“On a case-by-case basis, security and intelligence agencies may provide additional advice and guidance to departments, but they do not comment on vendors or untrusted suppliers.”

Talking Point

Canada’s military won’t block Chinese surveillance cameras that the U.S. has banned. The news comes amid a tense period in U.S.-China relations, with Canada caught in the middle. Last week, Washington announced new charges for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is currently facing an extradition trial in Vancouver, while U.S. Senator Rick Scott said Canada could be cut off from intelligence sharing if it works with Huawei.

In recent months, Washington has been aggressive in restricting the use of Chinese technology. As well as imposing limits on China-made surveillance cameras, which included banning equipment by manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua from all federal buildings, it has grounded Chinese drones, targeted online knockoffs and banned military personnel from having TikTok on their phones. It has also increased pressure on its allies to follow its lead in forbidding the use of equipment from Chinese telecom Huawei in 5G networks. 

Ottawa has yet to announce its long-awaited position on Huawei’s participation in its 5G infrastructure. The wait comes during a tense period in U.S.-China relations, which has found Canada caught in the middle. Last week, Washington announced new charges for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is currently facing an extradition trial in Vancouver, while U.S. Senator Rick Scott said Canada could be cut off from intelligence sharing if it works with Huawei. At the same time, Huawei said it added 300 jobs in Canada last year and that it would move its U.S. R&D centre to Canada. Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were arrested after Meng, remain detained in China. 

Certain Canadian firms have shown a willingness to work with Chinese companies blacklisted by the U.S. in recent weeks. So far in February, both Telus and SaskTel have announced new partnerships with Huawei. 

It’s not just U.S. federal buildings where the two Chinese camera manufacturers are facing restrictions. In October 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce added both Hikvision and Dahua to an export blacklist and said they had been “implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance.” Neither company responded to The Logic’s requests for comment.

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There are some indications that cameras made by both firms are being used in Canada. Almost 900 Hikvision products and about 13,000 Dahua products are in the country, according to an analysis from Shodan, an internet device-scanning service; there are 209 of the two companies’ products in Ottawa. 

The Chinese government owns 42 per cent of Hikvision and relies on the firm to monitor ethnic-minority Uyghur Muslims. In 2017, some Dahua cameras were found to have backdoors that allowed access to video feeds; the firm has claimed to fix the vulnerability. 

Asked if DND would follow the U.S. military’s lead in banning the use of TikTok, Lamirande said there is currently no guidance in place for the app: “Security briefings are provided to DND/[Canadian Armed Forces] personnel, to help them navigate the potential risks of personal internet and social media use, and to help them understand their security responsibilities and how to ensure they are protected by adequate security measures.”

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