The Quiet Case of Canada’s Own Virologic Scandal With the Wuhan Institute of Virology

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toasts during the State dinner with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, September 22, 2016. The Trudeau government is scrambling to defuse a scandal involving Qiu Xiangguo, Cheng Keding, and their band of Chinese student researchers who were escorted out of the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada’s biosecurity level 4 laboratory, after shipping 30 vials of 15 different pathogens to mainland China.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toasts during the State dinner with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, September 22, 2016. The Trudeau government is scrambling to defuse a scandal involving Qiu Xiangguo, Cheng Keding, and their band of Chinese student researchers who were escorted out of the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada’s biosecurity level 4 laboratory, after shipping 30 vials of 15 different pathogens to mainland China. (Image: LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images)

As the world’s eyes are focused on Anthony Fauci and the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s less-than-comfortable investments into coronavirus Gain of Function research with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) only biosecurity level 4 virology lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), America’s neighbors to the North are quietly trying to keep the lid on a dangerous virologic scandal of their own between Canada’s BSL4 lab and the WIV that first emerged in July of 2019. 

The story was first reported by Canadian wire service The Canadian Press after Qiu Xiangguo, her husband Cheng Keding, and several Chinese students comprising their research team were quietly escorted from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg by federal law enforcement, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), after the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) alerted them to a “possible policy breach” on May 24, 2019.

After the affair made barely a splash in Canadaian media, the University of Manitoba distanced itself from the couple, ending Qiu and Cheng’s “non-salaried adjunct appointments.”

A guard attempts to block photos from being taken outside the Canadian Embassy in Beijing on January 27, 2019. A virologic scandal involving a Canadian researcher with ties to communist China boiled over after she and her husband were removed from Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory by the RCMP.
A guard attempts to block photos from being taken outside the Canadian Embassy in Beijing on January 27, 2019. A virologic scandal involving a Canadian researcher with ties to communist China boiled over after she and her husband were removed from Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory by the RCMP. (Image: GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the first follow up articles in Canada’s decidedly one-voice media pantheon was a July 17, 2019 article by National Post, which said Qiu had “worked with a Chinese company that copied a breakthrough Ebola drug she helped discover.” The publication relied on statements from Qiu’s fellow NML researcher, Gary Kobinger, who said that while he and Qiu were employed at the federally funded facility, they coordinated with a Beijing firm known as MabWorks. 

The article sought to downplay Qiu and Kobinger’s dealings with MabWorks, paraphrasing Kobinger as saying “The Beijing firm was up-front about what it had done – despite the drug being under patent,” adding that the collusion “probably saved lives by increasing production of the experimental product at its own cost.”

Kobinger, who left the NML to take up a research chair position at the University of Laval, used his interview with National Post to frame Qiu and Cheng’s dismissal in a more palatable light, “The angle that is coming out of this I think is unfortunate. This angle of paranoia, that people are stealing and this and that.”

“It’s a bit sad, it’s kind of politicizing science, because of tensions between two countries.”

Kobinger wound up with egg on his face on August 2, when PHAC went public with the real reason for the RCMP’s investigation into the Chinese duo: They had shipped, via the NML, samples of Ebola and Henipavirus to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Henipavirus is a genus of viruses containing the Nipah and Hendra viruses and is the pathogen that causes the deadly disease known as Marburg.

A September of 2018 study published in Scientific Reports found that the Henipavirus pathogen has a mortality rate between 75 and 100 percent and spoke of fears it may be weaponized. The study is especially damning as it was authored by scientists from the University of Manitoba and the NML.

In a pandemic simulation parallel to the notorious Event 201 held by John Hopkins, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October of 2019, when SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first spreading like wildfire in Wuhan, John Hopkins held the Clade X simulation in 2018 that featured on a novel strain of a parainfluenza virus that had been spliced with Nipah. In the simulation, 150 million people perished globally.

National Post said a spokesperson for the NML said the virological transfer was part of a “routine” sharing between itself and the WIV.

After the revelations, the trail of the story quickly went cold in Canadian media. A few months later, the world had an emerging pandemic to occupy itself with ad nauseum throughout 2020. 

It wasn’t until May 5, 2020 that National Post gave space to the story again, using it to debunk “conspiracy theories” that Qiu and Cheng were connected to COVID-19. While it appears true that the banished Chinese researchers were not related to SARS-CoV-2, the article did reveal that NML employees were frustrated by the total silence around the removal of their colleagues from the facility, “They have told the staff nothing, other than a ridiculous order last summer that we’re not allowed to discuss it or speculate about what may be going on,” said a PHAC employee who was “not authorized to speak on the record.”

“Many of us think it is such a huge story that they are trying to keep buried for some pretty serious reasons. We just don’t know what those are.”

Almost 12 months after the story first broke, both the RCMP and PHAC were tight lipped to National Post on developments in the investigation. PHAC maintained that the situation was merely an “administrative review,” while Canada’s top police force only said “the matter is still under investigation.”

Justin Trudeau, center, performs “Tai Chi” during the launch ceremony of Canadian investment firm Manulife’s Move program on September 2, 2016 in Shanghai, China while he was in the country for the G20. For many Canadians, Trudeau’s coziness with the Chinese Communist Party is too-close-for-comfort.
Justin Trudeau, center, performs “Tai Chi” during the launch ceremony of Canadian investment firm Manulife’s Move program on September 2, 2016 in Shanghai, China while he was in the country for the G20. For many Canadians, Trudeau’s coziness with the Chinese Communist Party is too-close-for-comfort. (Image: Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

PHAC actually kept the duo employed until Jan 20 of 2021. A Parliamentary committee on Canada-China relations gave PHAC’s President Iain Stewart an ultimatum to reveal why Qiu and Cheng were terminated in March, only to be rebuffed by Stewart, a civil servant, who said he is “not at liberty to discuss it further” while the case is under RCMP investigation.

The rabbit hole runs deeper. In a June 14, 2020 article by Canada’s far-left public broadcaster CBC, the network found under Access to Information (ATIP) queries that Qiu, Cheng, and the NML had actually sent two vials of 15 different viruses to the WIV. These viruses included: 

  • There separate versions of Ebola Makona
  • Mayinga
  • Kikwit
  • Ivory Coast
  • Bundibugyo
  • Sudan Boniface
  • Sudan Gulu
  • MA-Ebov
  • GP-Ebov
  • GP-Sudan
  • Hendra
  • Nipah Malaysia
  • Nipah Bangladesh

The ATIP documents revealed NML’s Director General Matthew Gilmour had asked Chief of Special Pathogens David Safronetz in an email “Good to know that you trust this group. How did we get connected with them?” to which Safronetz replied “They are requesting material from us due to collaboration with Dr. Qiu.”

Gilmour left the NML in July of 2020 for a position at Quadram Institute Bioscience in the United Kingdom.

Documents also showed the NML was going to ship the thirty vials of pathogens in “inappropriate packaging,” which was only rectified after the Chinese side of the transaction complained. 

Law professor and epidemiologist at University of Ottawa Amir Attaran told CBC in exasperation, “The only reason the correct packaging was used is because the Chinese wrote to them and said, ‘Aren’t you making a mistake here?’ If that had not happened, the scientists would have placed on an Air Canada flight, several of them actually, a deadly virus incorrectly packaged. That nearly happened.”

And it wasn’t until June of this year when it was revealed by PHAC that a secret-level security clearance is required to work at NML, with an additional clearance under the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act for researchers working on deadly substances, both of which Qiu and Cheng would had to have possessed. 

CBC also found via ATIP inquiries that Qiu had flown to mainland China a minimum of five times to train scientists at the WIV. The public broadcaster said the documents showed the trips were funded by a third party, whose identity was redacted.

CBC further discovered Qiu has added 32 publications to her name since her removal from the NML, mostly involving Ebola and Marburg, partnered with Chinese scientists and Chinese funding. 

Notably, Qiu has co-authored at least eight studies with Yan Feihu, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a People’s Liberation Army backbone of the CCP’s Military-Civil Fusion initiative

CBC said unidentified sources at the NML confirmed they “saw the Chinese military scientist at the NML.”

The broadcaster also said Qiu and Cheng have not been seen since their 2019 removal. Two Winnipeg homes associated with the couple are empty. Neighbours told CBC the properties have been empty for several months. 

“Former co-workers say Qiu has also bragged about owning a mansion in China,” added CBC. 

Their Winnipeg homes are valued at approximately $1.7 million combined, a suspicious detail in light of their $250,000 combined annual salaries at the NML. 

Justin Trudeau acts strange as he attends a Canada-Hong Kong Business Luncheon in Admiralty, Hong Kong on Sep. 6, 2016. Canada's exporting to China scandal with Qiu Xiangguo and Cheng Keding of 15 different fatal pathogens sheds light on the Canadian government's serious conflict of interest with Beijing.
Justin Trudeau acts strange as he attends a Canada-Hong Kong Business Luncheon in Admiralty, Hong Kong on Sep. 6, 2016. Canada’s exporting to China scandal with Qiu Xiangguo and Cheng Keding of 15 different fatal pathogens to the Wuhan Institute of Virology sheds light on the Canadian government’s serious conflict of interest with Beijing. (Image: K. Y. Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

In April, the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, a Parliamentary organ, gave PHAC 20 days to provide unredacted documentation relating to the scandal. PHAC not only missed the deadline, but was bold enough to simply provide redacted copies of the documentation, resulting in Stewart and NML acting-Vice President Guillaume Poliquin being called to appear before Parliament to explain themselves on May 10. 

Stewart told the Committee that he and government lawyers had determined “As public servants, we’re bound by law to keep confidential information confidential,” despite the Committee and Parliamentary Law Clerk Philippe Dufresne asserting that the Committee and its elected officials had full jurisdiction to receive the information as acting Members of Parliament.

Conservative Party Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Chong was outraged during the proceedings, “The parallel between these two situations is appalling. We live in a parliamentary democracy and we are facing the same impediments to our investigations as investigators are facing as they attempt to discover the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China.”

In a session of Parliament on May 26, Conservative Party Deputy Leader Candice Bergen bluntly targeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the scandal when she stated, “We have a problem in this country when operatives who are part of the Communist China regime are allowed into our very sensitive labs here in Canada, specifically in Winnipeg.”

She asked Trudeau, “Will the Prime Minister commit today to ending research co-operation with the Chinese communist military?”

Trudeau, who while campaigning in 2013 told a fundraiser, “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime,” deflected the opposition party’s questions, attempting to turn criticism of Canada’s dealings with the CCP into an issue of race. 

“The rise in anti-Asian racism we have been seeing over the past number of months should be of concern to everyone. I would recommend that the members of the Conservative Party, in their zeal to make personal attacks, not start to push too far into intolerance towards Canadians of diverse origins,” pushed Trudeau.

On May 26, Chong and Conservative Shadow Minister for Diversity, Inclusion, and Youth, Kenny Chiu, challenged Trudeau on his words in a statement released on May 27,  “When Prime Minister Trudeau conflates criticism of China’s government with anti-Asian racism, he plays into the propaganda efforts of China’s communist leadership. Beijing’s goal is to conflate legitimate criticism of China’s government with intolerance towards anyone of Chinese heritage.”

“This is the sort of rhetoric that Canadians have come to expect from China’s communist leadership.”

On June 2, the House of Commons once again passed a motion compelling PHAC to supply unredacted documentation on Qiu and Cheng’s case. This time, Trudeau’s Ministers of Public Health Patty Hadju and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau both blocked the transfer of documents. 

It can be said that perhaps the Trudeau administration’s fondness for the CCP has become systemic. In December of 2020, Canadian independent media outlet Rebel News obtained documents via ATIP that showed Foreign Affairs Canada was instructed by Global Affairs Canada to look the other way as Canada invited PLA one and two-star generals to Canadian soil to participate in winter survival training after top military officers wanted to veto the engagement.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.