Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault, during a  public speech on February 9, identified the Government of China as “a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty.”

During a speech to the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Vigneault said that “the greatest strategic threat to Canada’s national security comes from hostile activities by foreign states.” In particular, he stated:

State cyber actors will continue to target sensitive and proprietary data that resides on these networks – some of which remain relatively open and accessible. They will continue to deploy tradecraft that is highly-creative and deceptive to gain access to data that holds strategic and tactical value.

These actors are able to leverage emerging technologies such as bulk data collection or AI-powered analytics to their advantage. With full integration, they pull from common data pools to identify threats and vulnerabilities. Without strong defences to protect our citizen’s data, it is easily accessed and can be used to drive the further development of AI capabilities.

For instance, in 2020, global news sources revealed that Zhenhua Data Technology which primarily serves China’s military and intelligence services had been gathering sensitive data on 2.4 million individuals for several years. Approximately 20% of this data was not publically available and likely accessed via cyber-espionage.

He noted that “biopharma and health sector; artificial intelligence; quantum computing; ocean technology; and aerospace sectors” are “facing particularly severe threat activity.”

Vigneault acknowledged that:

China is an important actor on the world stage and a partner for Canada on some important fronts. Canada and Canadians have benefited for decades from relationships with Chinese researchers, scholars, artists, business people, and others; and our cultural mosaic is all the richer because of the presence of Chinese-Canadians across Canada, in large cities and in small towns dotting every corner of this country.

However, he emphasized that the Chinese government is “pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty.”

He further stated:

Efforts by foreign states to target politicians, political parties, and electoral processes in order to covertly influence Canadian public policy, public opinion and ultimately undermine our democracy and democratic processes represent some of the most paramount concerns. Our electoral system has been shown to be resilient, but we must also work hard to keep it that way. Vigilance is the best defence.

A number of foreign states engage in hostile actions that routinely threaten and intimidate individuals in Canada to instill fear, silence dissent, and pressure political opponents. One notable example of this is the Government of China’s covert global operation, known as Operation Fox Hunt which claims to target corruption but is also believed to have been used to target and quiet dissidents to the regime.

In response, “We all must strengthen our defences,” Vigneault said.