Enhancing Cyber Security Under the Guise of "Economic Development"

Invest Ottawa chart of Ottawa-Gatineau "cyber security cluster." Click to enlarge

On February 26, Minister of Economic Development Mélanie Joly announced a $3.2 million investment in what is called the Ottawa-Gatineau "cyber security cluster."

Although Joly presented this investment as part of a post-pandemic "economic recovery" effort, the sector has been promoted since 2018. In November 2018, Invest Ottawa, Ville de Gatineau, ID Gatineau, and IN-Sec-M announced the official launch of a joint strategy aimed at attracting "new cyber firms, investment, talent and opportunity to Canada's Capital Region." The strategy aims to "position Canada's Capital Region as a global cyber security epicentre" and "help local innovators and firms further capitalize on the global cyber market," which, it points out, "is expected to grow from U.S.$152.71 billion in 2018 to U.S.$248.26 billion by 2023."

IN-Sec-M, which will receive $820,000, is an organization comprised of some 90 cyber security companies that describes itself as "the Canadian cluster of the cyber security industry." The funds are said to be "to strengthen the competitiveness of business in strategic sectors in Quebec around cyber security."

Founded in 2017, IN-Sec-M claims to "bring together companies, learning and research institutions, and government actors to take concerted action to increase the cohesion and competitiveness of the Canadian cyber security industry, nationally and internationally." As a "digital centre of excellence" funded by the Government of Quebec, IN-Sec-M aims to "promote cyber security industry and increase innovation, commercialization and growth capabilities of businesses in this field." It also supports innovative Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises by providing cyber security consulting services through the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program.

One of IN-Sec-M's partners is CyberQuébec, "the college centre for technology transfer of cyber security" affiliated with the Cégep de l'Outaouais since the summer of 2018, which offers technical assistance and research services to companies specialized in this field. The University of Quebec in the Outaouais is also seeking to improve its training offerings in cyber security as part of these overall aims.

Until now, it has been claimed that the main raison d'être of all this cyber security-connected infrastructure is to protect companies from online piracy. But a statement by Gatineau MP Steven MacKinnon on the day of Joly's announcement establishes a definite relation between this sector and the state police and military apparatus. MacKinnon describes Ottawa-Gatineau as an ideal region to develop the cyber security "industry" because of the proximity of federal agencies such as the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (CCCS), CSIS, the RCMP, Shared Services Canada, and the Department of National Defence.

As well, in a presentation on May 25, 2020, Minister of Digital Government Joyce Murray spoke of today's cyber security challenges. In her remarks, she stated that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Shared Services Canada would continue to work with the CCCS to implement measures "to prevent, detect and respond to potential threats to government systems." The CCCS itself is a unit of the Communications Security Establishment, which has just recently considered as serious threat activities the targeting of COVID-19 vaccine development and "cyber threats to Canada's democratic process." The minister went on to say that "to combat misinformation surrounding COVID-19 as well as fraud," the CCCS "coordinated with industry partners to help remove thousands of fraudulent websites or email addresses used for malicious cyber activity."

In 2019, a multimillion-dollar training complex for the police and military on the grounds of the Gatineau airport was announced. The centre will be used for training of tactical squads and in helicopter rescue and would include a fictional village. At a Gatineau city council meeting in October 2019, two council members tabled a resolution refusing the zoning change the project required on the grounds, among other things, that the city's Planning Department found the project to be unacceptable. The motion was defeated by a majority vote in favour of the zoning change.

The plan to make the "National Capital Region" a cyber security hub reveals a suffocating intricate web of connections, where it is difficult to see where government ends and businesses begin, where businesses and governments end and educational institutions begin, etc. Rather than being a boon or contributing to "economic recovery," it is already casting a shadow of government policing, spying and intrigue over the region. It definitely needs to be discussed. In these times of pandemic and with all the associated problems we are facing, there are more pressing democratic needs and preoccupations than hunting for threats to Canada's "democratic process."

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 4 - April 4, 2021

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