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Lieutenant Colonel Huajie Xu, a former member of China’s People’s Liberation Army, now resides in Winnipeg, Canada, where he moved in 2021 with his wife. Despite working at the military academy of the Chinese cyber warfare department that targets Canada, Xu claimed to have left China due to poor air quality. He denied knowledge of or involvement in China’s cyber warfare and espionage programs, stating that he was only a PLA instructor. However, the government has identified his military academy as a high-risk organization, training PLA hacking units targeting Canada and the United States.

The case of Xu is part of a broader issue regarding Ottawa’s screening of individuals with ties to foreign hostile governments. With China, Iran, and Russia named as top adversaries targeting Canadians through cyber attacks and foreign interference, there are concerns about foreign nationals from these countries being granted visas and permanent residence in Canada. The situation is exacerbated by the presence of Iranian officials and members of the PLA in Canada, leading to fears among activists targeted by these governments of cybersecurity threats and national security risks.

Xu’s military career was primarily spent at the PLA Information Engineering University, a renowned center for cyber and electronic warfare research within the Chinese military. The CBSA argued that his role as a lecturer at the university supported the activities of the Third Department, responsible for espionage against Canada. Cyber security experts highlight China as Canada’s primary state cyber threat, with the PLA Strategic Support Force being involved in cyber warfare and electronic warfare directed against Canada’s interests. The federal government’s National Cyber Threat Assessment identified China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as posing the greatest strategic cyber threats to Canada.

Despite acknowledging his military career in his application, Xu was approved as a permanent resident upon arrival in Canada, sparking concerns about the effectiveness of the screening process. The case proceeded to hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board, where the CBSA argued Xu’s involvement in a PLA espionage unit. His lawyers contended that there was no clear evidence linking Xu to the cyber warfare branch of the PLA. While the IRB initially ruled in Xu’s favor, the Federal Court overturned the decision, ordering a new hearing to determine whether Xu should be deported. The CBSA may also consider proceedings against Xu’s wife, who had extensive ties to the PLA.

The case of Xu exemplifies the challenges faced by Canadian authorities in screening individuals with connections to foreign governments known to target Canada through cyber attacks. With the threat landscape dominated by countries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea posing significant cyber risks to Canada, the issue of foreign nationals with military backgrounds gaining entry to Canada raises concerns over national security and espionage activities. The outcome of Xu’s case and the decision on his potential deportation will shed light on the effectiveness of Canada’s screening processes and its ability to counter cyber threats.

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