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Research Security

Steven N. Liss, Vice-President, Research & Innovation, presenting in front of a crowded room at the 2019 Celebration of Excellence

As the Canadian government and other international jurisdictions implement new national security-related funding requirements and guidelines, higher education institutions are being asked to share the responsibility of safeguarding the research ecosystem, strengthening its integrity and enhancing its overall resilience.

The OVPRI works with counterparts at other universities, government stakeholders and our researchers and faculties to support the development of appropriate mitigation strategies.

Research security refers to the ability to identify possible risks to your work through unwanted access, interference or theft and the measures that can be taken to minimize these risks and protect the inputs, processes and products that are part of scientific research and discovery.

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The OVPRI can provide support and guidance on conducting due diligence and developing risk mitigation strategies. Additionally, the Director of Research Security offers tailored one-on-one consultation and advice for security-related questions or concerns.

Questions to consider for due diligence

  • If you are considering applying for federal or provincial grants, do the security requirements apply to you? 
  • If you are considering collaborating with foreign researchers or commercial partners, how can you identify potential risks that could impact your project or grant application?
  • Are you hosting any international visiting scholars? 
  • Do you plan to travel abroad for research or present at a conference?
  • Do you need help conducting due diligence or drafting risk mitigation plans for your proposals?
  • Is your research area considered sensitive or dual-use? (Does your research involve large data sets of personal, identifiable information? Does your research involve or have implications for critical infrastructure?)


Why safeguard your research?

The threat landscape

Researchers, particularly those interested in applying for federal and/or provincial funding, are strongly encouraged to take the free online risk mitigation courses provided by the Government of Canada (external link, opens in new window) , which are approximately 30–45 minutes each. Completing these courses is viewed as a good first mitigation measure to address research security-related risks. There are currently three free online courses offered:

  1. Introduction to Research Security
  2. Cybersecurity for Researchers
  3. Safeguarding Research Partnerships with Open-Source Intelligence

The following sensitive research areas can be found in Annex A of the National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships (external link, opens in new window) 

  • Advanced materials and manufacturing
  • Advanced ocean technologies
  • Advanced sensing and surveillance
  • Advanced weapons
  • Aerospace
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Biotechnology
  • Energy generation, storage and transmission
  • Medical technology
  • Neurotechnology and human-machine integration
  • Next-generation computing and digital infrastructure
  • Positioning, navigation and timing
  • Quantum science
  • Robotics and autonomous systems
  • Space technology

This list may be updated periodically in accordance with the evolution of technologies, the military and intelligence applications of technology, and national security imperatives.

  • Research areas related to critical minerals, including critical mineral supply chains, on the Government of Canada’s critical minerals list (external link, opens in new window) .
  • Research areas classified within one of the critical infrastructure sectors of the National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure (external link, opens in new window) . (Critical infrastructure refers to processes, systems, facilities, technologies, networks, assets and services essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of government.)
  • Research areas that use large datasets that can be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially related to human behaviour and interactions that may have ethical, commercial or legal impacts at the individual, domestic or international level. The sensitivity of a large dataset depends on the nature, type and state of the information it contains, as well as how it may be used in the aggregate.
  • Research areas that use personal data that could be leveraged by hostile state actors to harm Canada’s national and economic security through its exploitation.
  • High risk: A relationship/collaboration may be determined high risk when the collaborating researchers and their affiliated institutions are linked to a hostile state actor’s military, intelligence or national security apparatus, state-owned or influenced national research organizations, state laboratories or state-owned enterprises. An entity and/or individual may also be determined high risk when they are sanctioned by the Canadian government and/or identified as end users of concern by other like-minded jurisdictions. 
  • Funding beneficiaries: Funding beneficiaries include anyone identified in the application who would be a partial beneficiary to the funding, primarily a Principal Investigator (PI), Co-PI, collaborating researchers, industry and commercial partners, visiting scholars or students and staff who may become HQP. 
  • Conflicts of interest: A conflict of interest may occur when funding beneficiaries have undeclared appointments, roles and any material relationship with a foreign entity, including participation in a foreign-funded talent program. 
  • Conflicts of commitment: A conflict of commitment may occur when a PI’s time, or the time of a researcher supported by the PI, becomes committed to two different activities or to the same activity that is funded by two different sources.
  • Non-disclosure: Non-disclosure occurs when collaborations, relationships, conflicts of interest and/or conflicts of commitment are not disclosed on the application as required, and the due diligence uncovered material evidence to support the existence of such conflicts.
  • Collaboration: Implies scientific collaboration, including but not exclusive to co-author, co-publication, joint research or joint funding recipients.
  • Relationship: Includes a formal memorandum of understanding, a partnership, a joint venture, joint funding, joint degree/exchange programs, graduate student supervision or a visiting scholar.
  • Active: A material collaboration in most cases within two years of submission. 
  • Researcher: An identified individual partaking in the proposed research in a given application and/or anyone who engages and/or collaborates with individuals identified in an application on research-related activities.