OTTAWA — The Canadian government will ban equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from both the country’s 5G and 4G wireless networks, following a review that took three years to complete.
“Telecommunication companies in Canada will not be permitted to include in their networks products or services that put our national security at risk,” Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters Thursday.
“Providers who already have this equipment installed will be required to cease its use and remove it.”
With the move, Canada falls in line with its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence network — the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK — who have all already banned or restricted Huawei equipment from their 5G networks.
The Liberals have been promising a decision on a Huawei ban for three years. Asked about why it took so long, Champagne said “this has never been a race. This is about making the right decision.”
Over that time, Canada’s large telecoms have been moving on building stand-alone 5G networks using equipment from other vendors, meaning the Huawei and ZTE ban is largely irrelevant to those networks. So-called non-standalone 5G networks are integrated with older 4G networks.
Both Bell and Telus will have to remove existing Huawei equipment from those older networks. Telus warned the government back in 2019 that “a full ban on Huawei for 5G will force operators to replace their existing 4G Huawei equipment — an expensive and complex proposition over an elongated timeframe.”
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Innovation Canada said in a policy statement that telecom companies will have to remove 5G equipment and managed services from Huawei and ZTE by June 28, 2024, and “any existing 4G equipment and managed services must be removed or terminated by December 31, 2027.”
Champagne said Thursday the government would not be financially compensating telecoms. The National Post previously reported both Bell and Telus approached the government about the possibility of being compensated by taxpayers for the cost of removing equipment.
On top of older, previously-sold equipment, Huawei has sold slightly more than $700 million worth of equipment to telecom operators in Canada since 2018, mostly to Bell and Telus.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a China expert and senior fellow with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, said that two and five years to remove all the Huawei equipment is just too long.
Though she said she is “fully in favor” of the Liberals’ announcement Thursday, she said she’d hoped the government would go as far as the US and outright ban all of the company’s products, such as consumer items like cellphones.
“There are other elements of what the company provides that can also be a problem,” she said.
The Huawei and ZTE ban stems from the fear that having Huawei equipment in Canada’s next-generation wireless networks is a security risk, especially considering China’s laws that state companies must cooperate with its intelligence services.
This delay only worked to raise serious questions at home and among our allies about the Liberal government’s national security commitments
Innovation Canada said in its policy statement that the Canadian government is seriously concerned with the two companies “could be compelled to comply with extrajudicial directions from foreign governments in ways that would conflict with Canadian laws or would be detrimental to Canadian interests.”
Asked what threat Huawei poses to Canada, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the “examination that was conducted over the last period of time, it was thorough, it was meticulous, it was on the strength of the advice that we get from our national security partners.”
The government will also soon introduce a legislative framework for protecting critical infrastructure in the finance, energy, telecom and transport sectors, Mendicino said. Critical infrastructure has become more vulnerable to cyber-attacks over the past decade as it’s been increasingly connected to the internet.
In separate statements, the opposition Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois all essentially said: it’s about time.
“The Liberal government’s lack of action on this decision has been an international embarrassment,” Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said. “In the years of delay, Canadian telecommunications companies purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of Huawei equipment which will now need to be removed from their networks at enormous expense.”
The NDP’s Brian Masse said the decision was “long overdue” and ultimately may have hurt Canada’s reputation in its intelligence allies’ eyes.
“It has taken the Liberal government three years to make this decision while the other Five Eyes countries made their positions known much sooner. This delay only worked to raise serious questions at home and among our allies about the Liberal government’s national security commitments and hampered the domestic telecommunications market.
The Bloc Québécois said it welcomed the “tardy” decision, and insisted that no government money would be spent compensating telecom giants who already have Huawei technology in their systems.