CSIS Alerts Inuit Leaders About Potential Threats from Foreign Investments in the Arctic

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CSIS Alerts Inuit Leaders About Potential Threats from Foreign Investments in the Arctic
David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), prepares to appear before a Commons committee on Parliament Hill on June 13, 2023. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has issued warnings to Inuit leaders regarding potential covert foreign investments in the Arctic. According to a recent CBC News report, foreign entities may aim to exploit Canada’s infrastructure deficiencies in the North as a gateway to secure a foothold in the country.

Foreign Influence in the North

Internal CSIS documents obtained by CBC News indicate growing concerns about the “economic, strategic, and military interests of foreign states in the North.” One notable excerpt from the documents reveals, “Foreign interference is a significant threat, primarily from China and then Russia. Both desire access to natural resources in the Arctic, like minerals.”

David Vigneault, CSIS Director, in an attempt to reinforce the agency’s presence in the region, met with prominent figures like Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and Duane Smith of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in 2022. According to CBC News, notably, Vigneault’s talking points for these meetings, revolved around the ramifications of partnerships with foreign telecommunication providers.

The Need for Detailed Warnings

The Canadian Arctic faces a severe infrastructure gap, including housing shortages and unreliable ice highways. “Canada isn’t built yet,” Natan Obed told CBC News, underscoring the dire need for infrastructure development, whether for airports, marine facilities, or shipping networks.

Obed further expressed concerns about CSIS’s vague approach, stating that while the agency has communicated its apprehensions about foreign investments, it hasn’t provided specific threats. This lack of detailed intelligence has left the Inuit leaders, including those from ITK, making critical decisions without comprehensive information about potential risks.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed says CSIS’s inability to share classified intelligence leaves the region’s decision-makers in the dark about the potential risks of foreign investment.

Growing Concerns About Arctic Research

The issue of research in the Arctic was another point Obed raised with Vigneault. He emphasized the rising number of foreign research license applications, which often focus on the region’s biodiversity. According to CBC News, Obed said “It is another way for foreign actors to gain access to Canadian soil and to gain information.”

Referencing a recent incident involving a Chinese spy balloon over Canada, Obed stressed the need for more transparent communication from CSIS to understand the underlying threats in the Arctic region.

A Push for Legislative Changes

The issue extends beyond just the Inuit leaders. British Columbia Premier David Eby expressed his dissatisfaction with CSIS’s briefings, citing the agency’s inability to provide information beyond what’s publicly available.

By law, CSIS cannot share its classified intelligence outside the federal government. However, according to Public Safety Canada, legislative changes are on the horizon, although a specific timeline remains undisclosed. In the meantime, a bill focused on reinforcing Canada’s foreign investment review law, the Investment Canada Act, is progressing through Parliament. A representative for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada highlighted that this Act has provisions ensuring the government can address any national security threats arising from foreign investments.