Liberal minister 'taken aback' by Winnipeg lab leaks to Wuhan

Declassified documents reveal that on March 31, 2019, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu sent 15 strains of Nipah and Ebola viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology without prior knowledge or approval from the management of the National Microbiology Laboratory.

Liberal minister 'taken aback' by Winnipeg lab leaks to Wuhan
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld and The Canadian Press / John Woods
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A Liberal cabinet minister was left speechless upon discovering that virulent Ebola and Nipah strains were sent to Wuhan from Canada’s top-security lab in Winnipeg, unbeknownst to higher-ups.

Speaking about the March 2019 removal of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng from the National Microbiology Lab, NDP MP Charlie Angus asked, "How the hell did that happen?”

“I’m really concerned about the March 2019 incident where [Qiu and Cheng] were implicated in a shipment of live Ebola and Hanipah [Nipah] viruses on a commercial Air Canada flight"

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc testified at the Commons Canada-China Committee on Monday. “When I saw that report, and publicly, I had the same reaction as you,” he replied.

He later deferred the question to the Public Health Agency of Canada based on not having any information on the matter.

“I had the same reaction as you, Mr. Angus,” reiterated LeBlanc, who served as minister of intergovernmental affairs at the time of the scandal.

On March 31, 2019, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, shipped 15 strains of Nipah and Ebola viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

However, not all of the samples shipped for research on Ebola were relevant to a secret project she was undertaking at the time. 

Dr. Qiu said her project remained a secret to her Canadian management as WIV was in the process of requesting the virus transfers from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), according to declassified documents.

The intelligence said she discussed shipping the viral strains in July 2018 without a formal agreement in place. “No one owns the IP [Intellectual Property],” she said.

In 2021, laboratory management told MPs they followed the proper protocols, and that Dr. Qiu oversaw their shipment after receiving their approval. The package went to Toronto and then Beijing by commercial flight, reported The Epoch Times.

Management was under the impression that the viral samples were to be used to understand the nature of infection, accompanied by the development of antibodies.

However, the Wuhan lab engaged in research on the Nipah virus, according to testimony from Dr. Steve. Quay, a U.S. scientist. Their efforts sought to redesign biological entities and systems.

“The Nipah virus is a smaller virus than SARS2 [the virus causing COVID-19] and is much less transmissible," he testified at a U.S. Senate subcommittee on August 3, 2022.

“But it is one of the deadliest viruses, with a greater than 60 percent lethality” and "60 times deadlier than SARS2," he said. “This is the most dangerous research I have ever encountered.”

Dr. Qiu, who is currently working on antibodies for Nipah and Ebola at WIV, had 44 collaborative projects with Chinese scientists at NML. Some included military research on Ebola, Lassa fever and Rift Valley fever. 

She partnered with Major-General Chen Wei, China’s leading military epidemiologist and virologist, on an unknown number of projects, according to declassified intel. Dr. Qiu pleaded ignorance on the military application of her research. 

It is clear that “elements from a Chinese-sponsored recruitment program were involved” at the Winnipeg lab, LeBlanc told the China Committee. 

“It is well known that such programs are one way that China seeks to incentivize academics to participate in activities that exploit advancements in Canadian technologies,” he added.

The scientist would lose her security clearance in July 2019 and receive her walking papers in January 2021. The Public Health Agency of Canada never disclosed the reason.

However, NML managers claimed her collaboration with foreign scientists had soured by the end of her tenure.

According to declassified documents, WIV secretly sponsored Dr. Qiu to work with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for military applications of Western civilian research.

Internal records show the Institute hired her as the only “Chinese” scientist with access to a Level 4 lab outside China.

LeBlanc acknowledged that China recruited foreign talent “to improve its military and intelligence capabilities, as well as the economic competitiveness all at the expense of Canada’s national interest.”

Though the minister declined to address concerns regarding the delay in removing Dr. Qiu from the NML. He deferred the question to Health Minister Mark Holland, who oversees the Public Health Agency of Canada, which in turn oversees the NML.

It took nearly three years for the agency to dismiss her after concerns had been raised regarding her collaborations and ties to Wuhan.

An Opposition motion to study the scandal passed on March 26 to probe multiple security breaches pertaining to the lab.

Conservative foreign affairs critic, MP Michael Chong, called the issue a “grave and serious matter,” where a government scientist “clandestinely” worked with Chinese agents aligned with its military.

“This is about foreign interference,” he said. “This is about national security. And all of us have an important and a serious obligation to treat all these matters very seriously.”

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