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June 9, 2023 | Local, Other Defence

Government of Canada invests in responsible artificial intelligence research at the Université de Montréal

The investment strengthens Canada’s position as a world leader in artificial intelligence research and innovation

June 9, 2023 – Montréal, Québec

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the greatest technological advances of our generation and already has a significant impact on the daily lives of Canadians. The Government of Canada is also fully aware that we need to promote the responsible development and use of AI and continues to consult with leading AI experts from Canadian industry, civil society and academia through the Advisory Council on AI. We are doubling down on responsible AI to drive economic growth, ensure Canadians are protected in the digital age and preserve Canada’s leadership at the forefront of tomorrow’s economy.

The government is actively working with international partners on the responsible development and use of AI. Canada has gained a strong international reputation as a leader in responsible and ethical AI and continues to collaborate with its international partners, in particular through the G7 and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, to promote prudent and interoperable regulatory approaches to AI. Canada was closely involved in the launch of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, through which the 29 member governments work collectively to orient AI technologies toward shared values. Further, the government is directly engaging with leaders from like-minded countries in discussions on the future of global AI regulation.

The government takes seriously concerns about the potential risks associated with rapid, large-scale deployment of advanced generative AI systems, and it is committed to addressing them effectively. That is why the government is proposing a new Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) to address the potential risks of AI, build trust in Canada’s AI industry and protect Canadians from a range of harms. AIDA will ensure that Canada is home to the most responsible and trusted AI in the world.

Today, Rachel Bendayan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, highlighted an investment of more than $124 million at the Université de Montréal for the R3AI: Shifting Paradigms for a Robust, Reasoning, and Responsible Artificial Intelligence and its Adoption initiative through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). This funding is part of a $1.4 billion investment in support of 11 large-scale research initiatives. This investment will allow researchers at Canadian universities to capitalize on the strengths of their research areas and attract capital and world-class talent.

The R3AI initiative will implement new responsible AI design and adoption strategies in areas of importance for Canada, including molecule discovery, health systems improvements and climate change mitigation.

By supporting initiatives focused on, among other things, treating and preventing brain and heart diseases, cutting carbon emissions in our communities, and making discoveries through responsible AI use, robotics and advanced computing, CFREF is helping Canadian researchers pioneer global insights and strengthen Canada’s social and technological innovation ecosystems.


“Today's research is tomorrow's innovation. In the case of artificial intelligence, Canada is home to some of the world’s leading AI researchers and the world’s first fully funded AI strategy. Through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, our government is proud to move even further ahead by investing $124 million into responsible artificial intelligence research. Canada will continue to lead on AI research, governance and innovation, including in drug discovery, health technology and climate change mitigation.”
– The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

"The Université de Montréal is home to ground-breaking research that is key to transforming the responsible adoption of artificial intelligence. The federal government is proud to support our researchers and our local universities with projects that lead to important social and economic benefits for all Canadians”
– Rachel Bendayan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance

“Canada’s post-secondary institutions are rich in talent and ideas and are committed to building healthier, more sustainable, more inclusive and more prosperous communities. With support from the federal government’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund, they are able to build on these foundations to develop advanced research programs that showcase Canadian talent and lead the world in developing solutions to the critical challenges facing our planet, including environmental sustainability, advanced biotherapeutics, child health and population migration.”
– Ted Hewitt, Chair, Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat Steering Committee; President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; and Chair, Canada Research Coordinating Committee

“Our R3AI project takes us down a necessary path: using a strongly interdisciplinary approach to develop reasoned, robust, resolutely responsible artificial intelligence that serves the common good. Thanks to the Canada First Research Excellence Fund grant, the Université de Montréal and its partners will be able to strengthen the leadership we have built up over the years.”
– Daniel Jutras, Rector of the Université de Montréal

Quick facts

  • Created in 2014, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) supports Canadian post-secondary institutions in their efforts to become global research leaders. The program helps Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnics compete with the best in the world for talent and partnership opportunities. It also supports them in making breakthrough discoveries; seizing emerging opportunities and strategically advancing their greatest strengths on the global stage; and implementing large-scale, transformational and forward-thinking institutional strategies.

  • CFREF invests approximately $200 million per year through a highly competitive peer review process, held every seven years, to support selected Canadian post-secondary institutions in turning their key strengths into world-leading capabilities.

  • CFREF is a tri-agency institutional program administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat, housed at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), on behalf of the three federal research funding agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and SSHRC.

  • Initiatives funded by CFREF are selected through an independent, multidisciplinary and international competitive peer review process. 

  • The first phase of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy (PCAIS) was launched in 2017, in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), with a $125 million investment to build a strong Canadian talent pipeline and ecosystem, including the establishment of centres of research, innovation and training at the national AI institutes. Budget 2021 invested more than $443 million in a second phase of the strategy to support AI commercialization, standards, talent and research.

  • Since 2017, over 125 top researchers, half of whom are international researchers drawn to Canada by the strategy and its investments, have been recruited as Canada CIFAR AI Chairs. Moreover, the national AI institutes have trained over 1,600 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Many of these are international students who have come to Canada because of the recognized strengths of each institute.

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On the same subject


    March 5, 2020 | Local, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security


    CDR recently sent Ottawa Bureau Chief, James Careless, to interview Canada's newly re-appointed Minister of National Defence, and with a number of high profile capital projects, such as CSC and FFCP currently in play, there was a lot to talk about. Sajjan is now a veteran in this portfolio and he spoke candidly about international missions, defence policy, procurement, and Canada's role in NATO. There were some surprises too. Here is our in-depth conversation with the Minister. CDR: Minister, it's good to speak with you again for, what's become, our annual chat. Can we start by looking what progress is being made on major capital projects like Future Fighter, and as a corollary to that, what new procurements do you think we'll be seeing in 2020? Minister Sajjan: When it comes to procurement projects and our defence policy, one of the things that Canadian defence industry asked us to do is to provide predictability. We've done that. Even though the defence policy is a 20 year program, we have put out a 10 year defence investment plan to industry. This gives them an idea of where we're at – and we're updating that. Obviously, we've got major procurement projects that are ongoing, but within that there are multiple projects. I'm happy to say that the vast majority are in implementation. Some are already closed and, and there's only a few that still have to be started. The Canadian Surface Combatant ship has been selected, while the Future Fighter is obviously an extremely important one that is under way. But there's a lot of other projects happening that are just as important. STARTING LAV PROJECT SOONER CDR: What role has your ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged' defence policy played in speeding up defence procurement? Minister Sajjan: One of the things about our defence policy is that it gives us authorization to move money around. This allows us to do projects faster when opportunities make this possible. The LAV support projects that we just announced in the summertime was a great example of that. We're going to be getting those five years sooner, because we can start these projects five years sooner. So we were able to move money quicker and get that going. Because we're learning and creating a lot more efficiency in our procurement system, we're able to save money. When we save some of that money, we're able to use it in other projects. As you know, procurement is extremely complex; especially on larger projects. There's going to be times where you're going to have to make some changes. Because we have that flexibility, we're able to provide a lot more efficiency to the system. When we created the defence policy, it involved a thorough consultation where every part of the policy had to be approved by cabinet. Now when projects go through, they know that we've already had really good discussions on the capabilities that we want to bring in. So when we bring those projects to Treasury Board, the policy discussions have already been done. So then we just focus on, “do we have the right process in place?” The nice thing about it – just like the current LAV projects – is we're able to streamline things when a competitive process is extremely important and we can get the best equipment at the best price. But there are some times when going for a sole source is more efficient and better for the Canadian Armed Forces. CDR: Many ofCDR's readers are small and medium-sized defence contractors (SMEs), and they're always concerned about getting their fair share of procurement contracts. So what steps has the government taken to make sure that their share doesn't just go to the big players? Minister Sajjan: Depending on the size of the project, we've actually taken a lot of time to consult our defence industries; not just the big companies, but the small and medium size businesses as well. One thing we've done as we build the requirements, is to ask, “how does it benefit Canadian companies?” So now the bids that come in have much greater Canadian content to them. Just for example, when you look at the AOPS (Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships) that are being built by Irving: The systems integration on the bridge is actually (being done by) a company that is working out of the Lower Mainland (B.C.). That's just one company; a lot of companies are able to benefit from this. So when we look at a project, I tell people, “don't just look at the hull or the plane, look at all the systems that need to go inside it. The LAV project has a massive impact on indirect jobs across the country as well. The final thing I say to this is the IDEaS (Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security) program. The IDEaS program is something very unique that is having a really good impact on small and medium-sized businesses; as well as universities and individuals who have great ideas. It allows us to throw challenges out to suppliers, where we get to compete the ideas. That's something that industry has been asking for, for a very long time. Imagine trying to guess where DND is going, and then having to spend all this money and time only to find out that's not the direction that we're going. So due to the defence investment plan that we lay out, or the challenges that we throw out, they know exactly what we're looking for. They get to compete early, and we get the benefits of their ingenuity. BATTLE GROUP IN LATVIA CDR: NATO recently celebrated its 70th anniversary, and President Trump used the occasion to once again pressure member countries to increase defence spending up to 2% of their GDP, as they have promised to in the past. Given that Canada's defence spending is only about 1.3% of GDP, where does the country stand in terms of meeting this 2% target? Because, I'm sure our readers in Canada's defence and aerospace industries would be more than happy to see Canada increase defence spending as much as it can. Minister Sajjan: I think we should go back to even before Trump. Many U.S. administrations have been asking NATO member nations to step up when it comes to their defence spending. When we formed the government in 2015, we looked at this. This is one of the reasons why the prime minister asked me to do a thorough defence policy review, because it's only then you're going to find out what is the appropriate defence investment that's actually needed -- not just for us, but for our allies. I think many people don't know that this is probably one of the first defence policies that's actually has come with all the money attached to it. That allows us to do a thorough analysis about which capabilities are important; not just a shopping list of things we need to buy. If you focus on the capabilities, you're able to evolve what's needed. What that has allowed us to do is look at how do we need to be Strong in Canada, Secure in North America, and Engaged in the world; investing in the right capabilities with a 70% increase in spending. That's the way it just turned out, based on our plan. But more importantly, it allows us to make appropriate contributions internationally. If you look at the number of operations our government has authorized, it's quite significant. Just for NATO alone, it includes a battle group in Latvia; plus a naval task force that, from one ship that was being consistently there, were actually taking rotation commanding the naval task force there. We have started air policing again in Europe. We're back in the AWACs program. We have increased our common funding to NATO for a second year. We're taking command of the NATO training mission in Iraq as well. So, when you look at that alone, that's just NATO Operation Artemis, which is this counter-terrorist interdiction in the Arabian Gulf. Plus, we're also doing Operation NEON, which is the sanctions monitoring against North Korea. Then there is the capacity building work that we're doing at different times of the year; including Africa. For the first time, we actually had our submarines deploy for training; one in the Pacific and the other in the Atlantic. So when you look at all the things that we're doing, defence spending has led to something. So that contribution piece is extremely important. Our increased spending is being driven by a national plan that's bringing unity into DND. This allows us to make those contributions in a very meaningful way; not just to NATO, but to coalition partners and the United Nations. CONTRIBUTIONS TO NATO CDR: Given this, do you think NATO should stop focussing on 2% of GDP and instead focus on tangible contribution to international security? Minister Sajjan: I would say that we shouldn't be having strictly a conversation about 2%. That's why the NATO Secretary General has always talked about the three Cs: Cash, capabilities and contributions; because if you need all three of them to be effective. The plan that we have proposed to NATO is something that they welcome. They know that we're going to be investing in types of capability, and what kind of impact that it actually can have. For example, when it comes to the ships that we provide, they know that our Cyclone helicopters are also very good at working with our aircraft when it comes to submarine detection. So it's not just about one ship, it's about what capability we're bringing in. And when you have capabilities from different nations, you're able to look at what type of NATO work that we can do; especially when it comes to our readiness. It is not just us offering up things that we have. These are capabilities that are plugging into a much wider system at NATO that can have an impact and ultimately send a very strong message of deterrence to any adversary – which is why NATO is there. CDR: In last year's interview with CDR, you spoke about the importance of retaining Canadian armed forces members and trying to do better for them and their families. What have you been able to do in the last year and what are you hoping to do going forward? Minister Sajjan: The Number One priority has always been to look after our people and their families. We have made a lot of policy changes in how we support our people. The biggest one that we did right when we launched the defence policy was to make every authorized international operation tax-free for our members. This sends a very strong message to the families. People think that this is about CAF members but it's actually about their families. Now the family can have more flexibility on choices. If their family is younger, they can have more daycare opportunities; making sure a spouse can continue with their career. Relocation has been a significant challenge. A year and a half ago, we dealt with the 10 Biggest Dissatisfiers to relocation and there's a little bit more work needs to be done with that. We've also now been working on what's called Seamless Canada, working with the provinces and the territory to look at where families get posted. For reserve members, their base pay is now equivalent to the regular force. So there's all these things that are happening. One focus that I'm putting more emphasis on this year is infrastructure across Canada. Do we have the right infrastructure for our people; especially when it comes to military family resource centres, health care clinics and accommodations for people? And we have to look at it differently now than we did in the past, because things have significantly changed. We know that in Comox, there is a challenge for people to actually find housing because the vacancy rate is so low. So we're looking at a project to build apartment-style complexes there, and I'll be working with the deputy minister on this. In other places, we are looking at how PLD (Post Living Differential) changes need to be made. The study is almost complete with a much wider analysis. My thought going into this was instead of just looking at the immediate fixes which we have been doing to ease the burden on our members -- like, for example, in places like Cold Lake -- we need to do a thorough analysis done so that, when we make a much wider decision, it can actually last longer. The PLD decision that was made a long time ago is not as relevant today, because it is based on how people live here in Ottawa. Those are the aspects that we're putting a lot more focus into. I think because we're putting a lot of emphasis on looking after people and their families, it's having an impact on retention. How we move people around is also something that the Chief of Defence Staff has been looking at very closely. MORE EMPHASIS ON CYBER SECURITY CDR: You've been Minister of National Defence since 2015. You're now very well versed with the requirements of the job and long past getting to know the ropes and dealing with immediate crises. What do you want to achieve going forward? What do you want your legacy to be at DND? Minister Sajjan: It's not about legacy. We spent a lot of time and very extensive consultations with experts, key people, and more importantly, civilians at the department and the Canadian Armed Forces to come up with the plan for the Defence Policy. And because it comes with money attached, this plan has enough focus and flexibility to adjust to any situation that we have to deal with around the world. My goal is for us to be thinking long-term about how we look after people, how we look at threats and where we need to be to make sure that we have a very strong deterrence. This is one of the reasons why we're putting a lot of emphasis on cyber-security. I'm working very closely with CSE as well. One aspect that I'll be driving home a little bit stronger this time around is going to be innovation. We have such great ingenuity inside the Canadian Armed Forces, but we also have absolutely brilliant people across the country. I want to take a greater look at innovation in the long-term; how we look after people, how we do logistics, and how we keep a technological edge against adversaries. There's a lot of interesting work that's happening. Making sure that we're set up for the future is something that I'm going to be putting a lot more emphasis on. WORKING OUT TO TRANCE CDR: Finally, on a more personal note, we've heard that you do a mean workout to the beat of electronic music, is that correct? Minister Sajjan: Yes! I listened to a lot of a particular type of electronic music known as Euro Trance and I've evolved it a little bit. DJ Markus Schulz is somebody I listen to, and there's a number of other deejays there as well. (Editor's Note: DJ-mixed club music known as Euro Trance is often very uplifting, it is usually around 140 - 145 bpm and has a lot of big rifts. It emerged from the 1990s German techno and hardcore scenes. Leading proponents of this genre have included DJs Armin Van Buuren and Tiesto.) It drives my wife crazy. But I love working out and getting into a high energy pace; it just keeps me motivated. I know it sounds nuts, a 49 year-old listening to Trance. People think I should grow up, but I can't knock everything out of me from high school. CDR: How did you get into this music? Minister Sajjan: I've always liked the mixes and I went to a lot of clubs in my younger days. Then when I was in the UK, they had a really good Euro mix and I used to listen to that a lot. When I was in Germany, I realized that they have a lot of different ways of doing it as well. So, I would try to find that music, which wasn't that popular back then. But now it's everywhere. And, it's easy to download that music. My wife always says, “it's the same beat.” I say, “exactly!” CDR: Thank you very much, Minister.

  • Push to use allies to train needed Canadian fighter pilots no longer being considered

    December 18, 2018 | Local, Aerospace

    Push to use allies to train needed Canadian fighter pilots no longer being considered

    David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen A Canadian military plan to boost the number of fighter pilots through a one-time push using allied training won't be happening, and instead the number of aviators will be increased gradually over the next seven years using the existing domestic system. The plan to make use of allied training to increase the numbers of pilots to fly the interim fighter jets being acquired by the Liberals was outlined to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in November 2016, according to documents obtained by Postmedia. “Fighter pilot production would need to be increased above current numbers to fly the additional mission ready aircraft,” Sajjan was told as the number of jets in the military's inventory would be boosted. “This would be done by utilizing allied training capacity with a one-time investment.” That initiative would allow Canada to have the needed pilots in place by 2023, the briefing added. The push for more pilots was to coincide with the purchase of 18 Super Hornets from Boeing, a U.S. aerospace firm. But that deal collapsed after a trade complaint and Canada is now buying 25 used F-18 aircraft from Australia. A one-time push for allied training would no longer be needed. “As the Australian F-18 jets are very similar to our CF-18's, there will be no difference in training our pilots,” an email from the Canadian Forces noted. “We will be using our existing pilots and growing their number gradually over the next five to seven years,” it added. Last month Auditor General Michael Ferguson noted that the additional aircraft being acquired as an interim measure meant that the Canadian Forces “would need to considerably increase the number of trained pilots. National Defence is unlikely to be able to do so because pilots have been leaving the fighter force faster than new ones could be trained.” Military aviators worldwide are being lured away from their jobs by the growing demand in the civilian aviation market for airline pilots. But RCAF commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger told the Commons public accounts committee Dec. 3 that the main reason for Canadian pilots leaving had to do with family. “Certainly the feedback from those who are releasing is it's a question of family, challenges for their family,” Meinzinger said. “There's a dimension of ops tempo, work-life balance, predictability in terms of geographical location, and then typically fifth or sixth are comments about financial remuneration.” Canada's main fighter bases are in Cold Lake, Alta., and Bagotville, Que. Meinzinger said there can also be issues with spouses finding employment in the locations where the pilots operate from. In addition, some pilots don't want to be transferred to desk jobs and want to continue with flight operations. The specific number of fighter pilots the Canadian Forces is short of is considered secret. In the email to Postmedia, the RCAF says it is looking at several ways to attract and retain fighter pilots “which include initiatives to make living and working in our organization the best it can be.” “This includes looking at increasing the number of staff positions where pilots still get to fly and reviewing options of longer flying tours, which would provide our members with added stability, enable them to fly longer, and retains valuable experience at the squadrons to train or upgrade qualifications of junior members,” the RCAF added. The RCAF also says it may consider sending its trained pilots to work with allied air forces to gain further experience if there is a need. There have been problems, on and off, since the late 1990s with producing and retaining Canadian military pilots. Postmedia reported that the Canadian Forces had to send fledgling fighter pilots down to the U.S. between 2011 and 2013 because of ongoing issues, including the availability of training aircraft provided by civilian contractors at the flying training facilities in Moose Jaw, Sask., and Cold Lake. That reduction in aircraft availability reduced the level of training, which in turn “negatively impacted the pilot production capability,” according to a briefing for then Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk.

  • 'Shields Up': Defence Department looks for new ways to protect Canada's satellites, with a nod to Star Trek

    September 24, 2019 | Local, Aerospace

    'Shields Up': Defence Department looks for new ways to protect Canada's satellites, with a nod to Star Trek

    Enemy action against satellites could include cyber-attacks, jamming, lasers or missiles, while natural threats could be solar flares or space weather The Defence Department wants to take a page out of Star Trek and has asked researchers to develop ways to protect Canadian satellites from such threats as laser attacks and missiles. Dubbed the “Shields Up” project, the plan would see the development of innovative capabilities that could be incorporated into the design and operation of Canada's space-based systems. The Shields Up terminology is a nod to the sci-fi TV and movie series Star Trek in which the USS Enterprise starship is protected by deflector shields that can be instantly activated in response to a threat. “Satellites are vulnerable to natural and artificial threats as well as, increasingly, threats from adversaries who seek to disrupt or destroy allied space systems,” said Dan Le Bouthillier, a spokesman for the Department of National Defence. Enemy action against satellites could include cyber-attacks, jamming, lasers or missiles, while natural threats could be solar flares, space weather or collisions with debris in space. The Defence Department and the Canadian Forces are the only Canadian entities with the mandate of protecting and defending the country's space capabilities, Le Bouthillier noted. The call for proposals is part of a DND science innovation program. Ideas that are accepted will receive $200,000 to further the proposal over a six-month period. The most promising solutions could receive another $1 million for additional development, Le Bouthillier said. Most satellite services are commercial in nature and defensive measures have not been a primary criteria in their design. But the DND wants that to change. The concepts or designs have to provide a reasonable method to deal with the threat. They also have to take into account Canada's international relations and obligations and the fact that various satellites operate in different orbits, which could influence the type of threats they face. There are 1,950 operational satellites in Earth orbits. Le Bouthillier said militaries are increasingly dependent on space-based systems for communication, surveillance, environmental monitoring and navigation. The DND has a growing interest in keeping Canadian space systems safe. In August the department put out a request to Canadian scientists to try to come up with a way to rid the Earth's orbit of the millions of pieces of space junk that pose a threat to satellites and other spacecraft. But the task is daunting; no other researcher has figured out how to collect the debris, which can be as small as one millimetre. The DND noted that the request at this point is not about funding a system but investigating new ideas to eliminate the space junk. The total number of “debris objects” in orbit is estimated to be about 129 million. That includes 34,000 objects greater than 10 centimetres in size, 900,000 objects one cm to 10 cm, and 128 million objects one mm to one cm, according to the DND. The debris has been created by decades of space travel and operations. In 2007, for instance, China conducted a military test using a missile to destroy one of its satellites. The warhead obliterated the spacecraft, creating an estimated 300,000 pieces of debris. The U.S., Russia and India have conducted similar military experiments. “There are no operational debris removal capabilities in use, globally, and existing prototypes lack important capabilities and have proven ineffective,” the DND noted in its request to researchers. DND is also interested in ways to track some of the smaller pieces of space junk as well as methods to remove multiple pieces of debris of any size. Space surveillance networks regularly track about 22,300 objects in Earth orbits.

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