U of T Processes Related to Ontario Research Security Requirements

From: Leah Cowen, Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives
Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President and Provost
Date: October 5, 2023
Re: U of T Processes Related to Ontario Research Security Requirements

Recently, the Government of Ontario updated their processes related to research security for funding programs delivered through the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU), specifically programs supported by the Ontario Research Fund (ORF): Large/Small Research Infrastructure (CFI matching), and Research Excellence (research operating grants).   

Previously, applications were required to include a completed geopolitical risk checklist and  

applications that were deemed to be ‘high risk’ were simply turned down. The University of Toronto, together with other Ontario institutions, engaged with MCU to achieve a more nuanced process. The government responded to university feedback, including significant work with the University of Toronto, to improve their process, which now includes the following: 

  1. Ontario introduced a new section to the “Mitigating Economic and Geopolitical Risk Checklist for Ontario Research Fund Applications” form for researchers to provide context regarding collaborations with entities that the government may assess as “problematic” from a research security perspective.  While the government analyzes all partners and specifically listed individuals on an application, it does not provide a publicly available list of entities that they deem “problematic”. The government’s attestation process usually includes collaborations going back approximately 2 years to ensure they are not current. U of T researchers are encouraged to seek support when completing the checklist from the Research Services Office and the Research Security Office, in the Division of the Vice President, Research and Innovation (VPRI).   
  1. There is a new step in the process, prior to rendering a funding decision, to provide the institution the opportunity to address research security concerns identified by providing context or mitigation strategies. This information is rendered through an official attestation document. VPRI will work with individual researchers and their academic unit and Division to complete these attestations and will submit them to Ontario for assessment.  Attestations will be project- and researcher-specific, and signed by the researcher, the designated Divisional research leader (normally a Vice or Associate Dean/Vice-Principal), and the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives. 

On the federal front, the Government of Canada will soon add a second research security process to the existing National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, including a publicly available sensitive research technology list and a research security restricted entity list.  These guidelines will apply to all Tri-Agency grants.  We will provide additional information as soon as it is available.  

Research security is a relatively new and evolving area. The University of Toronto is committed to supporting its faculty and academic divisions in addressing the changing landscape and to enabling a research environment that balances national security with principles of open academic collaboration. We welcome your thoughts and questions.