Defence Department says ex-soldiers who disclose 'sensitive information' to foreign actors will face 'serious consequences'

Three former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots face an RCMP probe into their training of military and civilian pilots in China. It is unknown whether the pilots contravened the Security of Information Act.

Defence Department says ex-soldiers who disclose 'sensitive information' to foreign actors will face 'serious consequences'
Facebook/ Royal Canadian Air Force
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Three former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots face an RCMP probe into their training of military and civilian pilots in China.

"The RCMP is aware of the report of former RCAF pilots taking part in training People's Liberation Army Air Force pilots," an RCMP spokesperson said in a statement to CTV.

"As the RCMP is investigating these incidents, there will be no further comment at this time."

As The Globe and Mail first reported, Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), a South African employer, enticed former military pilots from the U.K, Canada and other NATO countries with six-figure salaries to train civilian and military pilots globally, including China.

The Globe attempted to reach former RCAF pilot Paul Umrysh about his flight instructions with Craig Sharp and David Monk in China but has yet to receive a response.

TFASA spokesperson Edward Lee confirmed their employment with the company and that their contract involved training Chinese pilots.

"Training always involves unclassified procedures, and materials are derived from open source or clients. The training TFASA provides never includes information about NATO," said Lee.

He insisted their employees did not leak sensitive information to Chinese authorities, as they follow "strict protocols" that prevent them from disclosing information or training "that is or might be considered to be, legally or operationally sensitive, or security classified."

However, security officials say the three former RCAF pilots remain under scrutiny.

Formed in 2003, TFASA formed to become "the only independent test pilot school outside Europe and the Americas" to provide "specialist flying training for Asia and other progressive nations across the world."

In June, the U.S. sanctioned the South African flight company and others for "providing training to Chinese military pilots using Western and NATO sources."

"This activity is contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests," reads a June 12 decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Despite the sanctions, Lee insisted TFASA had not done anything illegal.

"Recent communications between the FBI, the (U.S. Air Force) office of special investigation, and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots indicates TFASA has broken no laws, as have communications from the U.K. Ministry of Defence," he said.

Though it is unknown whether the Canadian pilots contravened the Security of Information Act, a National Defence spokesperson clarified that it applies to current and former members.

"Non-compliance with the Act could result in serious consequences," including 14 years imprisonment for the "unauthorized communication of special operational information."

"Any behaviour that could potentially harm Canadian national interests is a violation of this trust and will be dealt with appropriately."

Canada's Department of National Defence has since referred the matter to the RCMP.

"The RCMP is aware of foreign actor interference activity in Canada from foreign state actors," said an RCMP spokesperson. 

"While for operational reasons we cannot speak at length about this, it is within the RCMP's mandate to investigate this activity should there be criminal or illegal activities occurring in Canada that are found to be backed by a foreign state." 

Lee told The Globe and CTV that Canadian security personnel from Public Safety Canada contacted "a number of TFASA employees" on August 24 to request they stop training pilots in China.

He said, "Those conversations are ongoing" but maintained, "Any suggestion that the company, or its employees, offer assistance in equipping foreign powers with advanced tactics, techniques or procedures, or advanced technology, is simply incorrect."

Nevertheless, Conservative defence critic James Bezan told CTV, "It's very disconcerting to learn former RCAF members are training fighter pilots for the communist regime in Beijing."

"Not only is this unpatriotic, but it could undermine national security for Canada and our allies," he said.

Last November, CTV reported on allegations against as many as 30 former British military pilots who purportedly trained China's People's Liberation Army members.

In October 2022, Australian law enforcement arrested a former U.S. Marine on unknown charges concerning his employment with TFASA. Police also executed a search warrant for the Australian property of a TFASA executive and former British military pilot months later.

Australian pilots have also been implicated in associating with the South African flight school.

The Globe previously tried to contact CSIS to discuss the matter, but they declined to elaborate on their conversations with the Canadian pilots.

"In a world marked by economic competition and confrontation, some states pursue a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts — economic, technological, political and military — and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty," said CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam in a statement.

"There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods, and sources of intelligence."

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