The federal government has awarded a contract to provide and maintain RCMP communications equipment to a company with ties to the Chinese government, Radio-Canada has learned.
The contract has security experts warning of potential Chinese access to RCMP communications and data.
On October 6, 2021, the federal government awarded Sinclair Technologies a $549,637 contract for a radio frequency (RF) filtering system. One of the purposes of the system is to protect RCMP ground radio communications from eavesdropping.
While Sinclair Technologies is based in Ontario, the company has been controlled by Hytera Communications of Shenzhen, China since 2017, when Hytera purchased Norsat International, Sinclair’s parent company.
The Chinese government owns approximately 10 percent of Hytera Communications through an investment fund.
United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to the Hytera blacklist in 2021. The FCC says the company is one of several Chinese firms that pose “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the safety and security of persons in the United States.”
As a result, the sale and importation of Hytera devices is prohibited in the United States.
The Chinese telecommunications company Huawei also appears on the list. Canada banned Huawei from using its 5G network this year.
Hytera Communications faces 21 charges in the case of American espionage. The United States Department of Justice has accused the company of conspiring to steal trade secrets from American telecommunications company Motorola.
The indictment alleges that between 2007 and 2020, Hytera recruited and hired Motorola employees to obtain confidential business information. Hytera Communications has denied all allegations in the indictment.
Sinclair Technologies’ main competitor for the RCMP contact was Comprod, a Quebec-based communications technology firm.
Jawad Abdulnour, Comprod’s vice president of research, development and engineering, said Sinclair Technologies can manufacture the device more cheaply than before because some of its components are now made in China instead of Canada.
“It’s very frustrating, disappointing and concerning,” Abdulnour said in an interview.
“How come a government agency just goes with the lowest bidder and gives contracts to companies like this when we’re talking about national security?”
Radio-Canada confirmed — through several sources with knowledge of the process who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter — that the difference between Sinclair’s and Comprod’s bids was less than $60,000.
An RCMP spokesperson told Radio-Canada in a media statement that installation work on the systems has begun in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
“Most of the time, RCMP radio support teams do the installation themselves,” said Cpl. Kim Chamberland in email.
However, the call for tenders requires the supplier to provide maintenance and technical support services after the installation of the system.
Chamberland told Radio-Canada that the RCMP is confident the system will remain secure.
“All information, including radio frequencies, is shared securely and only with those with the appropriate level of security,” she wrote.
“All contractors who have access to RCMP networks and sites must obtain a security clearance based on the work to be performed.”
A spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the department that awarded the contract, said in response to questions from Radio-Canada that PSPC did not consider security concerns and Sinclair’s ownership during the bidding process.
Sinclair Technologies declined to answer Radio-Canada’s questions about whether its equipment contains Chinese-made components and whether Hytera has access to RCMP radio frequencies.
“Due to customer confidentiality, we are unable to comment and respectfully decline your interview invitation,” Wee Er, Sinclair Technologies’ executive CEO, said in an email.
Experts are concerned about security
Conor Healy is a Canadian now based in Washington and serves as Director of Government Research at IPVM, a security and surveillance research group. He said he was concerned about giving the Hytera-owned company access to sensitive RCMP communications.
“If I were working for an intelligence agency, this is exactly the kind of system I would want to have access to,” Healy said.
Healy said the risks include eavesdropping, collection of communications data and jamming or disabling the radio communications system.
University of Ottawa senior Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a former senior federal official and specialist in Chinese science and technology, said the government should end the contract.
“You have to be naive,” McCuaig-Johnston said. “It’s like giving the key to Canada’s security to Chinese actors.
“It’s not just about getting rid of the contract. It’s also about ripping out what’s already been installed.”
The federal government’s October 2021 decision makes Sinclair the preferred supplier for a three-year period. The contract includes an option to extend the option for two years.
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