Source: Facebook

Canada’s top research universities are calling on the House of Commons to reconsider legislation that would force those representing a foreign government’s interests to register with the federal government.

U15 Canada, a group representing some of Canada’s largest research-focused institutions, submitted a brief to the House of Commons public safety and national security committee calling on it to amend the government’s foreign interference protection Bill C-70.

U15 Canada says that it is concerned with how the legislation would affect its relationships with research partners across the globe and how requirements could negatively impact academic freedom.

“While we applaud the Government of Canada’s efforts through Bill C-70 to further strengthen measures to protect against foreign interference…the current criteria for determining the obligation to register activities on the Foreign Interference Transparency Registry poses significant concerns for the research activities of our universities and for the Canadian academic community,” reads the brief.

It is well-documented that the People’s Republic of China has been exploiting research partnerships with universities in Western countries, includingCanada, to steal research for its own benefit.

A 2018 study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that Canada ranks as the third highest ranking country in peer-reviewed research papers published in collaboration with China’s People’s Liberation Army – the Chinese military – behind just the United States and the United Kingdom. 

Three of the top ten universities around the globe who have collaborated with the PLA the most are Canadian: the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, and McGill University. All three are U15 Canada universities. 

U15 Canada raised three points of concern when it comes to the foreign influence registry.

Firstly, U15 Canada says that large research universities are unable to track the contributions that foreign principals make to individual research projects and report on them within the government’s specified 14 day grace period.

The brief also raises concerns that a foreign influence registry would create disincentive for foreign research agencies to fund Canadian projects and would create a chilling effect on legitimate international research partnerships.

“The risk of a chilling effect on international research partnerships as an unintended consequence of the registry’s reporting requirements could significantly harm relationships with international peers.”

Finally, U15 Canada is worried that restrictions on communicating information on behalf of a foreign government would restrict the ability of researchers to present their research findings in academic journals, conferences, or forums without registering the communication with the government.

“The potential scope of this application could significantly infringe on the academic freedom of, and importance for, researchers to disclose their findings to the academic community and wider public,” reads the brief. “Such infringement would limit the pursuit of open science and free exchange of ideas.”

The Foreign Influence Transparency and Accountability Act states that if a person communicates with the public or a public office holder on the direction of a “foreign principal,” that they are engaged in an unlawful arrangement. 

Bill C-70 passed its second reading in the HoC and is currently being examined at the committee stage.

Conservative MP Michael Chong said his party will support Bill C-70 and will work with the governing Liberals to implement the legislation before the next general election.