Conservatives grill Health Minister over Canada's past collaboration with China

A trio of Conservative members of Parliament had harsh criticism for Health Minister Mark Holland over Canada's previous collaboration with China prior to the Winnipeg lab scandal.

Conservatives grill Health Minister over Canada's past collaboration with China
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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Health Minister Mark Holland provided insight into how the Public Health Agency of Canada handled the scandal surrounding two Chinese scientists fired from the country's top laboratory over national security concerns.

Speaking to the Canada-China relations committee on Monday, Holland identified how lapses in security can lead to individuals like Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, being able to send scientific information and materials to China.

"It is possible to lie and create that space to propagate misinformation and that was the case unfortunately," Holland said, as reported by CBC. He noted it was a "responsibility of those individuals to disclose their engagements and affiliations," despite the national security risk.

The National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg is a Level 4 lab, the highest in the country, and specializes in the study of deadly human and animal diseases.

Qiu and Cheng were infamously escorted out of the lab in 2019 before being officially dismissed in 2021. The couple are allegedly back in China continuing their research under pseudonyms, according to The Globe and Mail.

At committee, Conservative MP Stephen Ellis pressed Holland about a warning from U.S. officials about the Chinese military's biological weapons capabilities in 2017.

"There were, at that point in time, emergent concerns certainly around the way in which China was engaging itself internationally," he said. The health minister's words contradicted his previous testimony, however, where he described how Canada was "working collaboratively with China" on research in 2018.

"I think it's dangerous to give up collaboration with a billion people, we had to do that because of the threat environment evolved," Holland stated.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper also pointed to security concerns regarding Qiu and Cheng that were raised in the fall of 2018 — only for an investigation to be delayed until months later.

Holland responded that while an investigation was ongoing, the delay was because of "due process." The health minister also lamented "the fact that there are countries that are engaging in activities that would endanger not only our country, but all human beings."

After the committee session, Michael Chong, a Conservative MP allegedly targeted by the China because of his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, told reporters he was not satisfied with security at the Level 4 lab.

"Minister Holland has contradicted some of the information contained in the documents that were released last week," Chong said. "He has said that there were no actual breaches at the lab, he's also indicated that no information left the country. That's contradicted many [of] the documents we received last week."

The Wellington-Halton Hills MP suggested Parliament needed to look into the matter further before issuing recommendations.

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