Canada's global research reputation is built on open and collaborative partnerships with national and international partners in academic, government, industry and non-profit sectors.
These partnerships play a key role in research advances and addressing social and economic issues, but also require the research community to take steps to ensure that they are able to safeguard their research.
The Government of Canada has been collaborating with research institutions across the country to help raise the awareness of potential risks to their research, and ensure that the research community is well-equipped to mitigate such risks, including the theft or misuse of knowledge and results.
The following guidance is intended to equip all researchers with the information and tools to make sure that benefits of Canadian research and development are realized by those that perform it and for the benefit of Canadians.
The following guidance summarizes content available on the Government of Canada's Safeguarding Your Research website.
On July 12, 2021, the Government of Canada released new National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, developed in collaboration with the Government of Canada–Universities Working Group. The new guidelines integrate national security considerations into the development, evaluation and funding of research partnerships. The guidelines are a mandatory element of federal research partnership funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Alliance Grants program for any application involving private sector partner organizations.
On February 14, 2023, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, and the Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety, made a statement on protecting Canada's research and grant applications that involve conducting research in a sensitive research area. The New Policy on Sensitive Technology Research and Affiliations of Concern was published on January 16, 2024.
Guides & Resources to Help you Safeguard your Research
Why safeguarding your research is important
Canada's global research reputation is such that it is an attractive target for others to appropriate this research for their own advantage or gains. This includes research that could be applied to strategic, military, or intelligence capabilities of other countries.
Uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19 created a research environment susceptible to threats. This applied specifically to COVID-19 research, but also to the fact that a great deal of research activities are now being conducted remotely. UBC IT has provided resources to assist people working remotely in a secure manner.
Canada's cyber security, in particular, witnessed a heightened level of risk during the pandemic and the Cyber Centre issues frequent cyber threat alerts and advisories.
Who are you at risk from?
In building a secure research environment it is important to consider the motivations of outside partners, whether members of your own team or institution could be self-motivated or pressurized by others to access or steal your research, and to acknowledge that foreign countries may target certain types of research to advance their own objectives.
What are the risks?
If third parties obtain your research, risks include:
- the theft of research data;
- the loss of intellectual property;
- misuse of research or knowledge that is considered “dual use”;
- patenting and potential revenue;
- legal or administrative reprisal;
- loss of potential future partnerships or access to research funding; and
- a tarnished reputation.
Good research security and cyber hygiene practices can minimize the risk of theft and ensure that your research remains in your control (visit UBC IT Cybersecurity) It is also important to be aware of the potential commercial applications of your research (see UBC UILO) and to be aware of legal requirements such as export licence controls and working with controlled goods.
What areas of research are most vulnerable?
It is recommended for new and ongoing projects to conduct a risk profile and examine your project from an economic and geopolitical standpoint to determine what mitigation strategies may be appropriate. Research with significant commercial potential, national security impacts or sensitive data with ethical or privacy concerns may be particularly vulnerable.
Protecting your research
The scope for research collaboration across borders and disciplines is expanding and the movement of data and research results is accelerating. As a top global university, UBC partners and collaborates in ways that enrich the global research ecosystem and enhance societal well-being and economic growth. Canadian and BC governments have recognized the social and economic importance of world-class university research and continue to make strategic investments to support this activity.
A core tenet of university research is academic freedom to pursue wide-ranging research across all disciplines. Researchers need to have the freedom to operate with a minimum of barriers while being equipped to safely and freely pursue research in a global context. In a rapidly evolving global context, researchers need to be able to assess and manage risks that emerge when research topics intersect with economic, political or strategic interests.
Managing these risks often requires knowledge in areas unrelated to the research team’s expertise. The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities and Universities Canada in collaboration with the Government of Canada-Universities Working Group have created a guide to many of the issues, including best practices.
Topics covered include:
- Assessing risk potential
- Mitigating risks
- Building a strong project team
- Knowing your non-academic partners
- Cybersecurity and data management
- Use of research findings and intellectual property
Access the U15 Guide: Mitigating economic and/or geopolitical risks in sensitive research projects
International travel for research is often required for data acquisition, information sharing, and establishing and maintaining collaborations that enhance and accelerate the pursuit of knowledge.
The present geopolitical reality means that Canadian researchers travelling abroad may be targeted for their access to data and certain sources of information.
The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities and Universities Canada in collaboration with the Government of Canada-Universities Working Group have created a guide that focuses on risks created due to the intersection of geopolitical dynamics and research areas. It describes the nature of economic and geopolitically motivated threats to you or your research, provides basic steps you can take to mitigate risk and suggests actions you can take in case of incidents.
Risk factors addressed include:
- Research topics
- Access to partners
- Access to the U.S.
- Travel & travel companions
- Your personal profile
- Interpersonal connections
- Physical and cyber intrusions
Access the U15 Guide: Travel security guide for university researchers and staff
Useful UBC Resources: UBC IT Cybersecurity
Each year UBC undertakes approximately $70 million in industry-sponsored research across more than 1,000 projects. Each successful project lays a foundation for more research and builds relationships where students and trainees gain industry exposure leading to increased skills and employability.
Industry-sponsored research at UBC creates opportunities for;
- Increased engagement between academia and industry,
- Diversity of funding sources for research,
- Industry access to leading experts and specialized research infrastructure, and
- Translation of academic innovations into products that impact society.
While UBC welcomes the growth of industry-sponsored research, changes in the global political landscape have necessitated that we pay attention to issues surrounding export control and sanctions, both in Canada and in other jurisdictions around the world.
WHAT IS EXPORT CONTROL?
Export control regulations are Canadian laws that prevent the export of goods and technology to foreign entities, or individuals, for reasons of national security or trade interests. Failure to adhere to these laws can result in prosecution by the Government of Canada, with possible fines and/or imprisonment.
Many categories of items listed on the Canadian Export Control List are obvious, such as military and nuclear. There are many other items that are less intuitive, but nonetheless under export control. For example, integrated circuits and their design are frequently mentioned under Canadian export control, specifically those whose function exceeds what would currently be considered peak performance. A complete list of Canadian export-controlled items can be found at:
The University and our faculty must monitor the transfer of research outputs to foreign entities that could conflict with Canadian export control regulations. If any potential concerns arise, consultation should occur between the University-Industry Liaison Office, the University researcher, and the industry partner to identify potential export control violations and further engage the Government of Canada for assistance in resolving the issue.
CONFLICT WITH FOREIGN COUNTRY EXPORT CONTROL
Most countries will have export control laws specific to their national interests. While we work in Canada, we must be mindful of other countries’ export control laws when employing or partnering with their citizens, or contracting with companies or entities within their boundaries. With increasing frequency, foreign partners request that the University adheres to another country’s export control laws, which the University cannot do, as they will conflict with Canadian law.
Special care and attention must be paid to infringing foreign export control law through the re-export of goods. For example, a foreign country has listed highly machined ceramic bearings as an item under limited export control, meaning it can be imported to Canada, but no other country. If a UBC researcher sources such ceramic bearings from a company in said country incorporates them into a novel engine assembly, and then transfers the assembled engine to a third country under a sponsored research agreement, both the University and the researcher could be subject to the application of extraterritorial law leading to possible sanctions and/or extradition. This topic is especially sensitive when exporting to entities in Cuba, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Syria, and China.
HOW CAN EXPORT CONTROL BE MANAGED?
Exporting controlled goods
If an item is listed under Canadian export control, it does not necessarily mean that it cannot be exported to a foreign entity. A Canadian broker, acting on behalf of the foreign partner can apply to the Government of Canada for an export permit specific to the good or technology listed on the Export Control List. The preparation and application for an export permit is outside of the expertise of the University and must be undertaken by the partner.
Infractions against Canadian export control regulations can potentially occur when the University grants rights to foreign partners for technology developed under sponsored research agreements. The University would be in violation of export control regulations if it assigned or licensed intellectual property arising from sponsored research that is described on the Export Control List.
When the University is aware that the research outputs are likely to be listed on the Canadian Export Control List, it can insist that the partner obtain an export permit before the transfer of technology, or it can release all results and findings from the sponsored research to the public (a public disclosure) without a grant of rights. This is typically done by means of a peer-reviewed academic publication, and if done in advance of patenting, ensures that those discoveries are gifted to the public for use by the global community.
Working with controlled goods belonging to a third party
If a UBC researcher wishes to work with a Controlled Good belonging to a third party, the University must obtain approval from the Government of Canada’s Public Services and Procurement branch. Applications will require a description of the controlled good, a list of all individuals who will have access to the controlled good, and a security plan.
To obtain approval, please contact UBC’s Controlled Goods Program Designated Official, J.P. Heale, Managing Director of the UILO. The Designated Official will apply for required permits on behalf of the University. Please note that all individuals involved in research with the Controlled Good will be required to complete a security check. Failure to adhere to the Government of Canada’s protocols can result in substantial fines and/or imprisonment.
WHAT ARE SANCTIONS?
Sanctions are penalties applied by one country against another country, group(s), or individual(s). Such sanctions frequently include trade barriers (similar to export control), and also limitations, or outright bans, on financial transactions. A list of Canadian sanctions can be found at the following website:
For example, if Canada has sanctions on a specific country that include an: arms embargo, asset freeze, export and import restrictions, financial prohibitions, and technical assistance prohibition, the University cannot enter into agreement where products, technology, results, or funding are transferred or otherwise contravene that specific sanction. The University-Industry Liaison Office monitors the Canadian sanctions list to identify projects which may involve listed countries.
Similar to the re-export of export-controlled goods from another country, special care and consideration must be paid to the transfer of foreign goods and/or funds to countries, groups, or individuals under another country’s sanction list. The sanctions list for The United States of America is many times greater than the Canadian sanctions list. Caution must be exercised when transferring funds to another country when they originate from the US (e.g. the National Institutes of Health (NIH)).
UBC prides itself as an outwardly facing institution that welcomes global citizens to pursue opportunities for higher education and to expand their scope of knowledge through research. In a changing global political climate, when we are working with valued foreign partners, we need to be mindful of export control and sanctions. What might initially appear as a barrier may be overcome through consultation and transparent engagement between the University, our partners, and the Government of Canada.
more information on research security topics
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