Remarks delivered by Trevor Neiman, Vice President, Policy and Legal Counsel, Business Council of Canada, to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security regarding Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act.

Mister Chair, committee members, thank you for the invitation to take part in your study of Bill C-70.

As an organization representing Canada’s most innovative and successful businesses, I will restrict my comments today to the portion of the bill that has most direct relevance to the Canadian private sector. That is clause 34(3), which seeks to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to enable CSIS to disclose threat intelligence to stakeholders outside the Government of Canada for the purpose of increasing their awareness and resiliency against foreign interference.

However, before commenting on this clause, I want to make clear that Canada’s business community is broadly supportive of Bill C-70. From the establishment of a foreign influence transparency registry to the creation of updated sabotage offenses for attacks directed against essential infrastructure, this urgently needed bill will help protect Canadians’ lives and livelihoods by providing our government with the tools needed to build a stronger, more secure country.

I will start my substantive remarks by noting that while the current discussion in Canada surrounding foreign interference has been focused on the integrity of our democratic processes and the safety of targeted ethnic and cultural groups, it is important for us all to acknowledge that state actors actively target all aspects of Canadian society to advance their strategic interests. This includes the Canadian economy.

Indeed, in an era of growing geopolitical rivalry, in which supply chains, infrastructure networks, and technological innovation, increasingly determine strategic advantage, Canadian businesses are often the primary target of our foreign adversaries.

This should concern all Canadians. 

Economic security threats are not abstract, nor do they exist in a vacuum. These threats target the critical infrastructure needed to heat and power our homes. They target the supply chains that provide our families with low-cost food and medicine. They target the intellectual property that creates good jobs and pay our bills.

In short, these threats put Canadians’ very safety, security, and prosperity at risk.

To be sure, businesses and governments invest billions each year to keep Canadians safe from these and related economic attacks. However, if we want to be truly effective in protecting to our way of life, then we must replace our independent efforts with collective action.

Key to building this partnership is the sharing of threat intelligence.

Unlike the domestic security agencies of Canada’s Five Eyes partners, such as the United States’ FBI or the United Kingdom’s MI5, who possess modern authorities allowing them to share detailed threat intelligence with their respective business communities, CSIS is presently prohibited from sharing all but the most generalized information with the Canadian private sector.

This represents a considerable gap in Canada’s defences. Despite CSIS having both the knowledge and expertise to help Canadian companies withstand growing threats, CSIS’s outdated legislation means Canadian businesses are left fending for themselves.

It is for this reason that the Business Council strongly supports clause 34(3).

With new threat intelligence sharing authorities, CSIS could communicate more specific and tangible information with Canadian companies. This would give business leaders a clearer understanding of the growing threat, as well as the protective measures that could be taken to better safeguard their employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.

The use of these new authorities would also benefit the Government of Canada by helping CSIS build greater trust with the Canadian private sector.

This would encourage business leaders to share more with Ottawa about the threats they are seeing, which would better inform government policy as well as improve CSIS’s ability to respond to threats.

Of course, the granting of any new powers must be consistent with the values we share in our democracy, including respect for individuals’ rights and freedoms. On this front, we are very pleased to see that the Government of Canada has incorporated rigorous safeguards into clause 34(3), such as to ensure that disclosures protect Canadians’ privacy interests.

Before concluding, I want to stress the need for urgency. The Business Council agrees with many lawmakers that the protections contained in Bill C-70 must be put into place before the next general election. The preservation of our democratic system is of upmost importance.

However, I will add that when it comes to strengthening the resiliency of our economy, Canada is falling far behind its allies.  

This not only exposes Canadians to unnecessary risks, but by failing to move in lockstep with our closest allies, we risk being perceived as a “weak link”.

This could jeopardize our country’s relationships with its closest allies — especially the United States — at a pivotal moment when the global order is being reshaped and partnership matters most.

I’ll conclude by noting that Bill C-70 is just one of many economic security reforms that must be urgently undertaken to protect Canadians.

As a priority, the Business Council urges that the Government of Canada complement clause 34(3) with a formalized threat exchange to securely receive and disseminate CSIS’s threat intelligence broadly across the Canadian economy.

This and nearly 40 other much-needed reforms are included in the Business Council’s recent report, Economic Security is National Security. That report is publicly available on our website.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I look forward to your questions.