On Thursday (Feb. 25), Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Canadians should be wary of using Chinese social media platforms because information posted there could be used by foreign countries for “hostile activities.
At a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Canada-China Relations Thursday evening, Liberal MP Jean Yip asked Public Safety Minister Blair if Canadians should be concerned about using social media platforms owned by Chinese companies. “There is a legitimate concern that sometimes information that is publicly available on these platforms could be used by state actors in hostile activities,” Blair responded, adding that Canadians should be “cautious” about these apps. It was the first cabinet minister to so clearly express concern about all Chinese-owned social media platforms. In total, these platforms have millions of users in Canada.
For years, many data and privacy experts have warned that these apps collect a lot of data from users (not unlike North American companies like Facebook or Google). But there is another concern about platforms like WeChat, because the Chinese government has broad powers to obtain data from local companies.
In early January, the Winnipeg Free Press revealed that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) had refused to join TikTok.
In his opening remarks, Blair repeatedly warned of growing attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to interfere in Canada and its role in the current opioid crisis. But he sidestepped a question from opposition lawmakers about whether his government would ban Chinese telecom giant huawei from Canada’s 5G network. “While foreign intervention is at the forefront of my thinking, it is by no means the only issue. It’s no secret that China is one of the major sources of fentanyl. Fentanyl and the precursor chemicals used to make this potent and deadly synthetic opioid,” Blair said. “In the past four years, the Canada Border Services Agency has made 335 drug seizures totaling more than 42.2 kilograms, 129 of which listed China as the source of these drugs.”
Opposition MPs also questioned Blair about a report in the Globe& Mail. The report said Canada outsourced its visa application center in the Chinese capital to a company owned by Beijing police. Blair could not say which government official awarded the initial contract to VFS Global because he said it was signed in 2008, before his government came to power, and that VFS Global then dealt with Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Co. owned by the Chinese police.
When pressed repeatedly about whether he was concerned about the contract, Blair repeatedly said he was assured by the Canadians that no data had been obtained from Canadian documents.
“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is not a security agency, but there is an IT department that can ensure that all of our information is in fact secure. There is no hint of espionage or any concern, just the fact that official Chinese Communist entities are involved in this company,” Blair said. “So your government is completely satisfied with that arrangement and is satisfied that it should remain in place permanently?” New Democrat MP Jack Harris asked. Blair did not respond and did not say whether the contract with BPC would be renewed indefinitely. He said, “I’m satisfied that the IRCC has not found any problems yet and that they have provided strong assurances that Canadian data and Canadian interests are well protected in the existing system.”