CSIS warns of security concerns linked to foreign investment in Canada

Canada’s spy agency has issued a warning about the national security risk posed by some foreign investment — but isn’t saying which state-owned enterprises and foreign state actors it’s particularly worried about.

The message was delivered in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s 2019 annual public report, tabled in Parliament today.

“Economic espionage activities in Canada continue to increase in breadth, depth and potential economic impact. Hostile foreign intelligence services or people who are working with the tacit or explicit support of foreign states, attempt to gather political, economic, commercial, academic, scientific or military information through clandestine means in Canada,” the report says.

“As difficult as it is to measure, this damage to our collective prosperity is very real.”

The report says that while most foreign investment in Canada is above-board, “a number of state-owned enterprises and private firms with close ties to their government and or intelligence services can pursue corporate acquisition bids in Canada or other economic activities.”

“Corporate acquisitions by these entities pose potential risks related to vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, control over strategic sectors, espionage and foreign influenced activities, and illegal transfer of technology and expertise,” says the annual report.

“CSIS expects that national security concerns related to foreign investments or other economic activities in Canada will continue.”

The report is just the latest word of caution from CSIS about the rise of economic espionage in Canada. Director David Vigneault has called state-sponsored commercial espionage the “greatest threat” to Canada’s economy.

The 34-page report warns of foreign economic espionage several times, but doesn’t name the state actors involved. Earlier this year, however, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a review body made up of MPs and senators, released a report specifically calling out China and Russia for running “significant and sustained” foreign interference activities in Canada.

CSIS report flags ‘incel’ movement

CSIS’s annual report also touched on the threat posed in Canada by violent, ideologically-motivated individuals, including those associated with the so-called “incel” online movement.

“Given the diverse combination of motivations and personalized worldviews of recent mass-casualty attackers, the use of such terms as ‘right-wing”‘ and ‘left-wing’ is not only subjective, but inaccurate in describing the complexity of motivations of [ideologically-motivated violent extremism] attacks in Canada and abroad,” said the report.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair applauded the new terminology.

“We take very seriously threats posed by individuals who hold extremist beliefs, including male supremacy and misogyny. Our government is committed to countering the threats to public safety and national security posed by ideologically motivated violent extremists, such as individuals motivated by incel ideologies,” he said in a statement.

“We also know that the language used when discussing threats to our security is important. Our government welcomes the leadership of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) in adopting new language that better describes the different facets and motivations of violent extremism.”

Toronto police say they’re treating the killing of a woman at a Toronto massage parlour in February as an act of terrorism after uncovering what they say is evidence suggesting it was inspired by incel ideology.

Supporters of this misogynistic online movement typically express frustration toward women over their own lack of sexual success, and sometimes threaten violence against them. Toronto police and RCMP classify it as an “ideologically motivated violent extremist” movement.

Alek Minassian, the accused driver in the 2018 Toronto van attack that killed 10 people and injured 16 others, said in a police interview he was inspired by incel ideology.

Minassian told police shortly after the attack that his actions were retribution for years of sexual rejection and ridicule by women. His judge-only trial was scheduled to begin in early 2020 but has not yet started.

CSIS says threat actors’ reliance on encrypted technology online remains an obstacle for intelligence agencies.

“They can evade detection by police and intelligence officials, which often presents a significant challenge when governments investigate and seek to prosecute threat actors,” the report says.

“Terrorist entities use cyberspace to enhance the security of their activities … Radicalization, both offline and online, remains a significant concern to Canada and its allies.”

Wednesday’s report also looked at the number of security screenings CSIS has performed over the last fiscal year as part of its mandate. The security assessments help flag security concerns linked to terrorism and espionage, and help departments and agencies with decisions about whether to grant, deny or revoke security clearances.

Through the Immigration and Citizenship, program it screened 217,400 citizen applications and 41,000 refugees last year.


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