INTREPID: Bi-Weekly Briefing
By Hannah Diegle
17 September 2019
Starting this week our Intrepid research assistant Hannah Diegle (NPSIA) will summarize the most important National Security stories in Canadian news. Hannah will synthesize the key points, link you to relevant background material and identify high level implications for Canadian National Security. If you have suggestions on stories that you think may have missed our radar we’d love to hear from you @intrepidpodcast!
On September 13th, it was confirmed that Cameron Ortis, the senior civilian member in RCMP National Security Intelligence was arrested and charged. Due to the nature of offences allegedly committed by Ortis, he faces five charges under the Security of Information Act (s. 14 and s. 22) and two charges under the Criminal Code of Canada (s. 342.1 and s. 122). Various articles have described Ortis as someone with extensive knowledge of various international security issues – including cybersecurity and East Asia affairs. Due to Ortis’ superiority within the RCMP, the extent of information he could have accessed and shared is unknown. However, the threat that Ortis’ alleged charges pose has been described as ‘detrimental’ to Canadian national security.
Dominic Barton Selected as Canada’s Ambassador to China
On September 4th, the Prime Minister appointed Dominic Barton as Canada’s ambassador to China. Barton takes on this role at a time when the relationship between Canada and China is deeply strained. Tensions between China and Canada increased last December, when Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States. Some doubt Barton’s ability to help this struggling relationship. Tonda MacCharles, among others, noted that last year, Barton, alongside well-known consulting company, McKinsey & Co, attended a summit in Kashgar – a city within close proximity to Xinjiang Province. If Xinjiang Province sounds familiar – that’s because it’s where the Chinese government is holding Uyghur Muslims in ‘internment camps’, although China has branded them as ‘re-education camps’. However, Barton does have extensive professional experience with China which many have noted could be extremely beneficial for his new position.
Most importantly, Canadians need to remain diligent on China’s retaliatory behaviour. In December 2018, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China – they have not yet been released. Further, China has restricted trade on Canadian products, including canola and pork products.
Presence of Far-Right Groups Increasing in Canada
In late August, Patrick Mathews, who was previously employed by the Canadian Armed Forces as a Master Cpl in the Army Reserves, went missing which prompted a missing persons report. Prior to disappearing, Mathews was released from his position due to his affiliation with ‘the Base’, a far-right group espousing neo-Nazi beliefs. The media coverage surrounding Mathews’ disappearance has increased public awareness about the existence of far-right groups in Canada. Mathews’ case follows other events this year that highlight how far-right groups are on the rise in Canada. This past April, Globe and Mail reporters Shannon Carranco and Jon Milton analyzed thousands of messages from online chat rooms that were linked to far-right groups within Canada. Interestingly, Carranco and Milton’s research indicates that people found participating in these groups are Canadians living normal lives. Although the true intentions of Mathews is unknown at this point, one fact remains clear. The rise of far-right groups in Canada poses an increasing concern for Canadian security services.
On September 6th, Rapid Response Mechanism (Global Affairs Canada) published a report addressing foreign interference in the recent Alberta provincial election. Although this report found no indication of foreign involvement, it does raise red flags as the federal election draws near. On September 12th, Canada 2020 hosted ‘Combating Misinformation’, where it was suggested that Canadians need to remain cautious about the potential for fake information disseminated on social media platforms. Another study, completed by Sergey Sukhankin at the University of Calgary, implied that Russia could play a significant role in the spread of misinformation in the upcoming election. At this point, the extent of foreign involvement in the federal election is not clear. However, this is a further indicator that foreign actors have the ability and the desire to influence how election news is received and understood by Canadians.
New Arctic Policy Released
On September 10th, the Government of Canada released the ‘Arctic and Northern Policy Framework’. The report highlights many areas including education and healthcare. However, the framework lacks emphasis on national security. There is the acknowledgement that many foreign actors have taken interest in the Arctic region yet there is no decisive indication about what the Government is planning to do to combat potential threats. One of these potential threats could be Russia, as Vladimir Putin has confirmed Russia’s substantial interest in the Arctic and confirmed that Russia is increasing its military presence in the region. Further, in August, it was announced that the Canadian government would be investing in a 700 km highway in Nunavut. This highway may benefit Northern communities, yet the main beneficiary of this infrastructure expansion would be MMG (a Chinese company) with mining interests in the region.