RCMP investigates reports of former RCAF members training pilots in China

Canada’s federal police force is investigating reports that former Royal Canadian Air Force pilots are training military personnel in China.

“The RCMP is aware of the report of former RCAF pilots taking part in training People’s Liberation Army Air Force pilots,” a Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesperson said in a statement to CTVNews.ca. “As the RCMP is investigating these incidents, there will be no further comment on this matter at this time.”

The Globe and Mail previously reported that three former RCAF fighter pilots have been training Chinese military pilots through the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA). By offering lucrative six-figure salaries, the flight school in South Africa’s Western Cape province has allegedly attracted former military pilots from the U.K., Canada and other NATO countries. TFASA has reportedly held contracts to train Chinese military and civilian pilots in both South Africa and China.

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, the South African flight school confirmed that Canadian authorities have reached out to their employees. The school states that its training does not cover sensitive or classified information such as NATO tactics and frontline equipment.

“Public Safety Canada made contact with a number of TFASA employees on Thursday 24 August and those conversations are ongoing,” a spokesperson from the flight school said in an email to CTVNews.ca. “TFASA emphasises that 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.”

In June, the TFASA and other overseas flight schools were targeted with U.S. export sanctions 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,” the U.S. Department of Commerce said in its June 12 decision.

Despite the sanctions, the flight school maintains that it has done nothing illegal.

“TFASA has strict protocols and a Code of Conduct in place that are designed to prevent any TFASA employee sharing any information or training that is, or might be considered, legally or operationally sensitive, or security classified,” the spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “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.”

It is unclear if the Canadian pilots have broken laws such as the Security of Information Act, which includes punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for the “unauthorized communication of special operational information.”

Canada’s Department of National Defence says it has referred the matter to the RCMP.

“The Security of Information Act applies to both current and former members, and non-compliance with the Act could result in serious consequences,” a National Defence spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “Any behaviour that could potentially harm Canadian national interests is a violation of this trust and will be dealt with appropriately.”

A Public Safety Canada spokesperson declined to provide details on the case.

“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement to CTVNews.ca. “There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods, and sources of intelligence.”

CTVNews.ca previously covered the allegations in November 2022, following reports from the U.K. that as many as 30 former British military pilots were training members of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

“It’s very disconcerting to learn that former RCAF members are potentially training fighter pilots for the communist regime in Beijing,” Conservative defence critic and Manitoba MP James Bezan told CTVNews.ca at the time. “Not only is this unpatriotic but it could undermine national security for Canada and our allies.”

A former U.S. Marine who worked for the South Africa flight school was arrested in Australia in October 2022 on unknown charges. Police also searched the Australian property of a TFASA executive and former British military pilot in December 2022, though no charges were filed. Pilots from Australia have also been implicated.

Formed in 2003, the TFASA markets itself as “the only independent test pilot school outside Europe and the Americas” and the “go-to provider for test flight and specialist flying training for Asia and other progressive nations across the world.”

“The RCMP is aware of foreign actor interference activity in Canada from foreign state actors,” the RCMP spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “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.”


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