Jenny in the House: concerns about subcontractor operating Canada's visa application centre in China

On May 4, 2021, MP Jenny Kwan stood for Adjournment debate to raise concerns about the subcontractor operating Canada's visa application centre in China:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, it has been brought to light that Canada's visa application centre in China has been subcontracted to a Chinese state-owned company run and operated by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. The company that was awarded the contract, VFS Global, has confirmed at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that the Canadian government knew right from the beginning that services were being subcontracted and that it was informed of the ownership structure of the company.

This happened under the watch of the Harper government, and clearly the Conservatives were asleep at the switch. Former immigration minister, Jason Kenney, now the Premier of Alberta, said he did not know about it. I cannot help but ask how on earth he did not know about something as significant as that. It speaks to the level of his incompetence and disregard for the important work conducted by Canada’s visa application centres.

The saga does not end there. In 2018, the contract was renewed by the Liberal government, yet no changes were made. In fact, Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed that it did not even know that services in Canada’s visa application centre in China had been subcontracted to a company owned by the Beijing police until The Globe and Mail brought it to their attention in February 2021. The Liberals say they underwent a vigorous process for the contract renewals. However, somehow the Liberal government was still oblivious to the fact that Canada’s visa application centre is effectively run and operated by people hired by the Beijing police.

It really shakes one's confidence about the government’s vetting process and makes one wonder what sort of security checks are done. Was CSIS even consulted on this? A former CSIS director was quoted as saying, “I cannot think of a more promising entry point for China’s cyberspies.” According to Richard Kurland, “The VFS organization may have more personal information on applicants for immigrant services than entire countries do.”

It has been reported by The Globe and Mail that 86% of staff are being hired by the company owned by the Beijing police. In what world would having 86% of the staff employed by an arm of the Beijing police be a good idea, when they are receiving the kind of sensitive information that visa application centres handle? Since the subcontractor is a Chinese-owned state firm, according to Chinese regulations the party's secretary must be the chair of the board of the company and the general manager position must be filled by the deputy party committee secretary. This means the subcontractor handling Canada’s visa centre services is run and operated by the party secretary and deputy party secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.

I went on Google and was able to find the minutes of the CCP meeting in which it appointed its party secretary and deputy party secretary to these positions. Can anyone imagine that the chair of the company running and operating Canada’s visa application centre in China is the party secretary of the CCP branch in that region and the general manager is the deputy party secretary? They have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, and it is their duty to execute the will of the party. That is where their first loyalties lie. If we were prospective applicants, would we feel confident that our personal information for the immigration application is being handled by a company owned by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau? If the Chinese get wind of the fact that a pro-democracy activist or someone who is sympathetic to the Uighurs in China is trying to get a visa to Canada, do we not think they would be in jeopardy?"

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2021/5/4/jenny-kwan-1/

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