Canadian universities continue to partner with Huawei despite 5G security ban

Universities contacted by The Globe and Mail say they have no intention of severing ties with Huawei unless asked to do so by the federal government.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Leading Canadian universities have said they intend to continue research and development with Huawei Technologies Co. – which harvests intellectual property from the partnerships – after Ottawa’s decision to ban the Chinese telecommunications giant from networks 5G wireless for national security reasons.

When the Trudeau government announced on May 19 that it would ban Huawei from selling 5G equipment to Canadian telecommunications companies, it took no action against Huawei’s many relationships with Canadian universities. Huawei spends about $25 million a year on academic R&D projects aimed at developing advanced communication technologies, including 5G and 6G wireless technologies.

The company participates in research programs, often as a sponsor, at some 20 Canadian post-secondary institutions, including the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University, Carleton University , the University of Calgary and the University of Waterloo.

Universities contacted by The Globe and Mail say they have no intention of severing ties with Huawei unless asked to do so by the federal government.

Why is Canada banning Huawei from participating in the country’s 5G network?

McGill spokeswoman Cynthia Lee said the university had a limited number of research partnerships with Huawei and had no plans to change its course unless ordered by Ottawa.

“Like all Canadian universities, McGill adheres to federal guidelines and regulations on research partnerships,” she said. “At this time, no decision has been made on these ongoing research initiatives.”

JP Heale, managing director of UBC’s office of industry relations, said the university “is not aware of any federal terms regarding Huawei at this time and we will not be speculating on any future scenarios involving Huawei. or any other research partner”.

UBC said it received $6.3 million in Huawei-sponsored research this year and participated in 24 research projects with the company in 2021.

The University of Toronto said in a statement that Huawei’s 5G ban was not aimed at academic research, but added, “In the event of changes in government guidance, we would of course respond and comply.” .

Sean Myers of the University of Calgary said “security threats should be taken seriously” and that the institution is working with federal security agencies to “help us do our risk assessments.”

Huawei estimated that about 10% of the company’s annual R&D investment in Canada goes directly to research partnerships with Canadian research institutions. Besides its cooperation with Canadian universities, Huawei also has eight private research facilities in Canada, including Waterloo, Markham, Kanata, Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Edmonton and Vancouver.

“It’s amazing that Canada’s public universities are continuing to work with an organization that the Canadian government has banned from the Canadian 5G network for national security reasons,” said patent attorney Jim Hinton. “It’s like kicking someone out of your house while allowing them access to your office through the front door. It does not mean anything.”

Huawei won’t say how much intellectual property it has harvested from Canadian universities. “The company does not disclose commercially sensitive and confidential information,” Alykhan Velshi, vice president of business affairs for the Americas at Huawei, said in a statement.

A search of U.S. and global patent offices by Mr. Hinton identified nearly 80 unique patents and patent applications invented by Canadian academic researchers in recent years, where Huawei is listed as the patent owner. In a number of cases, Canadian universities are listed as co-owners of these patents, but Hinton said any revenue or benefit Huawei derives from commercializing the intellectual property would not necessarily accrue to the university.

A senior federal official says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office fears the Shenzhen-based company could sue the Canadian government if Ottawa shuts down its private research facilities in Canada and bans the company from research and development academics. The Globe does not identify the person responsible because he was not authorized to speak officially about Huawei’s activities in Canada,

The source said the cabinet is also concerned that such a move could further anger China as Ottawa tries to mend relations with Beijing. Bilateral relations froze at the end of 2018 after Huawei’s top executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver following a US extradition request and, in apparent retaliation, China took action. imprisoned Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

The Liberal government was further concerned that a greater ban on Huawei would harm it politically and that Chinese-Canadian immigrants from mainland China would punish liberals in major urban ridings in Greater Toronto and Vancouver, the source said.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told The Globe that the government was focused on Huawei’s 5G security concerns and did not want to extend the Canadian ban to Huawei’s vast research operations.

“The primary purpose of the Statement of Intent to ban Huawei equipment from being on 5G, 4G, and 3G, and any network beyond, is to address the specific risk that such equipment poses to the national security on the telecommunications network,” the minister said. .

However, Mendicino said Ottawa is open to talking with universities that conduct research with Huawei to determine if it’s in the country’s best interest.

“We will work closely with the academic sector, including post-secondary institutions that can advance research in collaboration with Huawei,” he said. “But ultimately, we will continually reassess any activity put forward by this state actor and, where appropriate, take the necessary steps to mitigate any potential risk.”

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a former top official with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, said Canadians shouldn’t overlook Huawei’s ties to the Chinese military.

“Our scientists and engineers must recognize that Huawei is an important partner in the development of Chinese military technologies, and the People’s Liberation Army is not our friend,” she said.

McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said she expects other telecommunications equipment makers who are not Banned 5G networks, like Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung, could start displacing Huawei in funding Canadian university research.

Alex Wellstead, director of communications for Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said the government had recently established national security guidelines for research partnerships for universities and granting agencies.

Researchers applying for grants through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council will now be required to complete a full security risk assessment. Any project assessed as “higher risk” will be subject to review by Canadian security agencies and a team of scientists. If deemed too risky, the research will not receive government funding.

In 2020, CSIS warned universities and research institutes nationwide that Beijing was using academic recruitment programs such as its Thousand Talents Plan to lure scientists to China in hopes of obtaining top science and technology. spike for economic and military advantage.

The US government is creating regulations that would limit research partnerships and other agreements that universities have with China. Universities that do not follow these rules risk losing Department of Defense funding.

In May 2021, The Globe reported on the University of Alberta’s extensive scientific collaboration with China, which involves the sharing and transfer of research in strategically important areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

Shortly thereafter, the Alberta government ordered its four major universities to suspend pursuing new partnerships with individuals or organizations linked to the Chinese government or the Communist Party. Institutions are required to provide reports to the province outlining all relationships with China.

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