In a ruling that could have repercussions for universities across the country, a federal judge alleges that engineering students may be pressured by the Chinese government to commit espionage, and that Chinese residents denied permission to enter Canada.
The case centers on Yuekang Li’s visa application to study at the University of Waterloo and bring his knowledge back to China to improve China’s public health system. Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton ruled that Lee’s proposal met the definition of “non-traditional” espionage.
“What constitutes ‘espionage’ as hostile state actors increasingly use non-traditional methods to obtain sensitive information in Canada and abroad, against Canada’s interests,” he said. “Courts’ assessments of whether this applies also need to evolve,” he said in the Dec. 22 decision, which was made public. this week.
Margaret McQuaig-Johnston, director of the China Strategic Risk Institute think tank, said she expected to see more such rulings in the future.
”[Canadian] What visa officials in Beijing, and perhaps other cities in China, should look out for: possible military ties to students and professors from China who want to come to Canada and work with our professors. “We’re getting some guidance on that,” she said.
“This is something new and I think it’s something that universities themselves need to look at. [to avoid] Admitting students who may pose a safety risk. ”
The decision, first reported by the Globe and Mail, said Lee applied for a study permit in 2022 after the University of Waterloo accepted a doctoral candidate into its mechanical and mechatronics engineering program.
He was deemed a failure. Visa officials later said there were multiple concerns with Li’s application, including the areas of study expected during their stay in Canada and whether China is recruiting students to promote China’s research into new technologies, including military technology. He cited the fact that he is being used as a “non-traditional information gatherer.”
The official further added that Li has a strong interest in microfluidics, a field of micro/nanoscale science and technology, and would like to dedicate his career to improving China’s underdevelopment of advanced technology applications. He also mentioned what was shown in the study plan. “Applications to point-of-care technologies in the field of public health,” the federal court’s ruling states.
Although not named in the decision, the visa official pointed to China’s strategic interests in certain high-tech industries, including biopharmaceuticals.
The official cited an article titled “Why is China becoming a microfluidic superpower?” He said microfluidic devices are important for new medical research and supports his decision to reject Lee.
The judge sided with the visa officer.
Mr Lee asked the judge to reconsider that decision. According to the federal court’s ruling, the officer argued that the definition of “espionage” was too broad and relied on speculation.
Judge Crampton sided with the visa officials, saying there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Li may have been recruited or coerced by the Chinese government as a spy.
The judge noted that Li had conducted research at a university in Beijing that was relevant to China’s defense industry, that Li’s field of research could potentially benefit China’s biopharmaceutical industry, and that scientists and students He pointed to China’s famous history of targeting people.
Dick Fadden, the former prime minister’s national security adviser, said the decision gives Canada another tool to “get on top of” the growing problem.
“The question of whether Mr. Li is or could be a spy is neither here nor there. In both Canada and our allies, the Chinese have acquired universities, intellectual property that can be used for purposes. “I think it’s beyond any reasonable argument that they’re using it as a means to do their military,” he said.
The decision comes amid growing concerns about China’s interest in Canadian universities and research programs.
of Canadian Security Intelligence Agency They are publicly sounding the alarm. Just last month, Spy Agency Director David Vigneault warned in a speech not to underestimate China’s efforts to steal Canadian research and interfere in its affairs.
“They are stealing the intellectual property of Canadian businesses, universities and governments – the essence of our future prosperity,” he said in a speech at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
“No one should have any illusions about the size of the world.” [China’s] It is an effort to permeate our political system, private sector, government agencies, universities, and communities. This isn’t just a Vancouver or Toronto problem. It’s a Canada-wide thing. ”
Fadden, the former CSIS director, said it was past time to consider sealing off some areas of research, such as nuclear technology, advanced optics and space research, from foreign adversaries.
“As much as we encourage Canadians to study abroad, we should encourage students from other countries to come to this country, but we should also encourage Canadians to bring students from other countries to this country,” he said. “I think this ruling will make that easier.” he said.
“I also hope we don’t just throw it all out there and start banning everyone. But it goes back to my point about 10 or 15 key areas like dual-use and military. I think it’s a good thing for Canada for individual security officers to have the ability to double check people in these decisions and areas.” ”
Canada is an easy target: China expert
The federal government has introduced national security vetting for academics seeking federal funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and will screen Canadian universities that collaborate with Chinese scientists, particularly those with ties to the Chinese military. He promised to crack down on it.
“I think we’re still behind,” Faden said. “Because we’ve been so slow in getting to this. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face is recognizing that national security is no longer the sole authority of the federal government. We need to involve the states, we need to involve the states.” Civil society and the private sector. ”
McCuaig-Johnston said China has been targeting Canadian campuses for years because “it’s easy to get into Canadian campuses.”
“We don’t want military scientists to study in Canada and partner with government-funded programs to learn our innovations and use them for their own military applications.” she stated. “That’s not very wise. So we need to close the back door.”
University of Waterloo spokesperson David George Kosh said the university is reviewing the language of the court’s decision, adding that it “contains useful guidance on the government’s interpretation of risk and will inform future applicant evaluations.” It will be helpful.”
Currently, CSIS is limited to sharing classified information only with the federal government. CSIS has long advocated for changes to its statutes to better alert other institutions, including universities, businesses and indigenous governments, of national security threats.
The federal government is in the process of consulting on possible changes to the CSIS Act. George Kosh said Waterloo hopes the revised CSIS Act will “enable the service to share more information with institutions such as universities so that we can more effectively evaluate our work.” He said he was looking forward to it.
Neither Li’s lawyer nor the Chinese embassy responded to CBC’s requests for comment.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa has previously told CBC News there is nothing to fear about scientific cooperation with China.
“China believes that international cooperation is an inevitable requirement for the development of science and technology,” an embassy official told CBC in 2020.
Faden said China does not respect its rhetoric on international scientific cooperation.
“There is another principle involved here: in international relations it is called reciprocity, which means that if we allow the other person to do x, they will also allow us to do x. It should be,” he said.
“If you look at what the Chinese are allowed to do, I think you’ll find that very few Westerners are allowed to study at Chinese universities that fit into the 10 to 15 categories I’m considering. .”