Canada Expanding Community Oluwaseun Onasanya

CSEC Spying Allegations: Canada’s International Reputation Will Take A Hit

By now, the spying scandal that has dominated the international affairs scene for quite a while should no longer be news to any of us. However, most of the scandal-related stories have concentrated on the United States and the way it has spied on its most important allies through its primary surveillance apparatus, the National Security Agency (NSA).

While this is understandable considering the fact that the United States remains the international system’s most dominant state actor, they are not the only country embroiled in the spying scandal. Canada has also been embroiled in the scandal to the surprise of many. Recently, reports emerged in Brazil that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canada’s answer to the NSA, was also involved in secretly spying on Brazil’s Mining and Energy Ministry. While Canada’s intentions for spying without Brazilian government knowledge remains unclear, it has been suggested that Canada might have been spying to gain an advantage for its private companies. It has also been suggested that Canada might have been doing it out of concern that Brazil’s emerging oil market might cut into the market for Alberta oil in the future. Whatever the reasons for spying, these allegations will affect Canada’s standing in the international community.

Economic Implications

There is little doubt that these new spying revelations threaten to inflict some form of damage on the budding economic relationship Canada has slowly built with Brazil over the years. Brazil has been a very important economic partner in recent years for Canada, especially under the Harper administration. Brazil is Canada’s 11th largest trading partner and the 7th highest source of foreign direct investment in Canada as of last year. Brazil was also the 12th largest recipient of Canadian investment with more than $9 billion in investment pumped into Brazil in the last year alone. So important is this economic relationship that the Canadian government describes Brazil as a “priority market” for Canada.

Canada should be worried about President Dilma Rousseff’s and the Brazilian government’s reaction to the latest allegations. The United States with the support of Canada has in the past criticized China for engaging in economic espionage and the United States has even gone as far as trying to block Chinese imports, citing espionage as the reason. If President Rousseff is unhappy enough, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to think that she could follow the standards set by the United States in dealing with cases of economic espionage to deal with Canada. And from the evidence so far, it does not look like she is happy with the revelations.

The allegations also threaten to put a dent in the Canadian economic relationship with the BRICS countries- the five major emerging economies. Canada, especially under Prime Minister Harper’s leadership, has deliberately increased economic ties with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) to reduce economic overreliance on the United States. The allegations will most certainly put doubts in the minds of policy makers in the other four countries as far as pursuing closer economic ties with Canada is concerned. Regardless of whether Canada did it to steal trade secrets or not, the idea of Canada possibly stealing and exposing trade secrets of these countries to others in the international community has been planted and it could prove detrimental to Canada in the future, if not quickly addressed.

Reinforcing Old Perceptions

The allegations also threaten to reinforce old perceptions that Canada has worked very hard to dissociate itself from, especially when one considers the suggestions by some analysts that Canada might have spied on the Brazil for the NSA. Wesley Wark, an expert on national security issues, says that Canada might have felt it owed the Americans a favour because it was a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that also has, in addition to the two North American countries, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia as members.

This explanation once again reinforces the old perception of Canada being an American subordinate that simply cannot completely move out from the under the massive shadow of its next door neighbour.

It also poses a threat to Canada’s long-term plans of establishing stronger ties not only to Brazil, but to Latin America as a whole. It would be in complete contradiction to the Canadian government’s strategy to make up for lost time in Latin America with Brazil as the center of the Canadian foray into the continent. A Canada that prioritized closeness to the United States over anything else would not be good for stronger Latin American ties.

Oluwaseun Onasanya
Oluwaseun Onasanya was the program editor for Expanding Community. He is an Honours B.A graduate in International Relations and History from the University of Toronto. His interests include Conflict Analysis and Resolution, International Political Economy, International Law and 19th and 20th Century European History. He hopes to continue his studies in International Relations at the graduate level.