EDMONTON — Alberta's advanced education minister has sent a letter to four of the province's universities asking them to pause their pursuit of new or renewed partnerships with organizations linked with China or the Chinese Communist Party.
A ministry spokesman says in an email that Demetrios Nicolaides has also asked the four comprehensive academic and research institutions to thoroughly review their relationships with entities that are potentially linked with the People's Republic of China and its governing party.
The letter asks that the review ensures "these ongoing partnerships follow stringent risk assessments and due diligence."
"I am deeply concerned about the potential theft of Canadian intellectual property and further concerned that research partnerships with the People’s Republic of China may be used by Chinese military and intelligence agencies," Nicolaides said in a statement.
"More needs to be done to curb foreign state infiltration into our research and innovation centres, including our post-secondary institutions."
The universities have 90 days to submit a report with the requested information to Alberta's Advanced Education Ministry.
The University of Calgary said in an email that it has received the letter and is reviewing it, but isn't able to comment at this time.
The University of Alberta acknowledged it, too, received the minister's letter and will be responding. It also referred to a statement made earlier this month by Walter Dixon, interim vice-president of research and innovation, which said the school has asked the federal government for guidance on the issue.
Dixon said the university looks forward to guidelines expected late next month from a working group of the federal government and universities that's dealing with national security as it relates to funding and research partnerships.
"A consistent national response on security matters and international engagement is necessary and we are fully committed to working with all levels of government to ensure that Canada’s core security interests are protected and advanced," Dixon said in the statement on May 4.
A policy statement from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada in March warned members of the research community, particularly those involved in COVID-19 research, to take extra precautions to protect the security of their work.
"Canada’s world-class research, and its open and collaborative research environment, are increasingly targeted by espionage and foreign interference activities," the policy statement said, although it did not name a particular country.
Nicolaides said his priority is to work with post-secondary institutions to protect Canadian intellectual property, and to make sure they don't enter agreements that would undermine Canada's "core national interests."
He also said the province would welcome a "comprehensive national framework from Ottawa on these serious pressing issues," noting that national security and intelligence are primarily the federal government's domain.
Dixon's statement from earlier this month noted that international partnerships are important, and the University of Alberta has agreements with partners from over 80 different countries.
"International partnerships, which include research projects, teaching and mobility agreements, and international learning opportunities are what allow the academy to provide students, post-docs, and faculty with the experiences needed to ensure that knowledge flows around the globe," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2021.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press