Whereabouts of two scientists fired from Winnipeg virus lab for possible national-security issues shrouded in mystery


The whereabouts of two scientists at the center of a parliamentary demonstration over alleged national-security breaches at a high-security laboratory are unknown, as Ottawa’s explanation for their firing has shifted.

Jiangguo Qiu, former head of a major program at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, and her husband, Keiding Cheng, have not publicly commented on why they were fired. Nor has he responded to questions about whether his dismissal was related to the transfer of the highly contagious virus to China’s Wuhan Virology Institute.

The Granthshala has found that the scientists are no longer living in Winnipeg, and it is unclear whether they are still in Canada. The RCMP would not state whether they knew where the couple were located.

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“Since this is an ongoing investigation, we will not provide any additional information,” Corporal Julie Courtchine, of the RCMP’s Manitoba Division, said in an e-mail.

Two scientists were decommissioned from the laboratory in July 2019 and fired in January 2021.

Canada’s Public Health Agency described the reasons for his visit to the infectious-disease laboratory as a “policy violation” and an “administrative matter” and a “potential breach of safety protocol” and said more, citing privacy and security. has refused. idea.

The Trudeau government, which would not elaborate on what happened, has insisted as opposition lawmakers passed a motion this week to obtain uncensored records of why the two scientists were fired. The Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and the NDP also want to know whether the dismissals are related to possible espionage or the transfer of two extremely dangerous viruses to the Chinese laboratory in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected.

On Wednesday, the Liberal government acknowledged that the couple’s shootings were related to sensitive national security matters. For this reason, it says, it is ignoring the Commons motion and refusing to provide information to the Special House of Commons Committee on Canada-China Relations. Health Minister Patty Hajdu says the government is only ready to hand over confidential documents to a separate committee of lawmakers that reports directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We will never put national security at risk,” Ms Hajdu told the Commons on Thursday.

The Granthshala reported in May that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had recommended the removal of security clearances for the two scientists due to national security concerns associated with their work with China’s Wuhan facility. The pair were taken out of the lab on July 5, 2019, from China along with Dr. Qiu’s unidentified students. The RCMP was called to investigate.

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The couple owns two homes including a rental property in Winnipeg. A third property he also owns is located in cottage country in Gimli, Maine.

The Granthshala couldn’t find anyone living at the couple’s prime residence, which is worth $1.2 million, and is located in the suburbs. A nearby neighbor, who has not been identified, said that no one has been staying at the residence for at least the last six months. A man comes from time to time to check the property and do a little yard work, the neighbor said.

A second property, worth $524,000, has been rented to two international students from China. The students did not give their names but told The Granthshala that they believed their landlord had moved to Vancouver and did not know whether they would return to Winnipeg.

He said he did not have an e-mail or phone number for them and communicated with the couple and paid their rent through the Chinese-language social-media app WeChat.

Attempts to find the couple in Vancouver were unsuccessful. The Granthshala e-mailed Dr. Qiu but did not respond. Her husband did not accept the request to speak to The Granthshala via WeChat.

A former colleague of the couple said it is their understanding that they have a home in China. He didn’t know where the house was. The Granthshala is not identifying the aide who did not want to speak publicly about his conversations with Dr. Qiu and Dr. Cheng.

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Four months before the couple were released from the lab, access-to-information documents show that Dr. Qiu was instrumental in transporting two extraordinary viruses – Ebola and Henipah – to China’s Wuhan facility.

Although Canada’s Public Health Agency insists that all protocols were followed, documents show that the shipment lacked a standard “content transfer agreement” that spelled out intellectual-property rights.

Other troubling national-security issues include pair work with Chinese military scientists and students from China having access to a high-security laboratory.

Dr. Qiu was able to bring undergraduate and graduate students from China, who were studying at the University of Manitoba, into the Level 4 laboratory. How those students got security clearance to enter the lab equipped to deal with the world’s most dangerous virus is unclear.

The Granthshala reported that the couple and other scientists in the lab, along with Chinese military researchers, conducted studies and experiments on deadly pathogens such as Ebola, Lassa fever and Rift Valley fever.

One of the Chinese researchers from the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Feihu Yan, worked briefly in the Winnipeg lab.

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“The decision to grant access is made by the Public Health Agency of Canada,” CSIS spokeswoman Keira Lawson said in an e-mail.

Dr. Qiu’s name appears as a co-author on more than 120 scientific research papers between 2000 and 2021.

There were a large number of papers in collaboration with Chinese scientists where research was funded by Chinese government bodies.

Other scientific papers that the author helped author include research that was funded by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Two former colleagues who worked with Dr. Qiu described him as a fine researcher. She said she was very successful in attracting research funding and doctoral and postdoctoral university students to work in the lab – often from China. The Granthshala is not identifying the two scientists because they were not authorized to speak publicly about their time at the National Microbiology Laboratory.

One of the scientists said he would have a student staff of as many as 15. Both said that Dr. Qiu’s former role as an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba allowed him to attract students enrolled there.

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Both former colleagues described the laboratory as poorly managed and said that as a successful researcher, Dr. Qiu was given relatively free rein there.

Former CSIS director Richard Feden said he does not understand how students and PLA researchers managed to gain access to the Winnipeg lab.

“With the development of more aggressive Chinese activity in the past few years with regard to the acquisition of Western science and technical information, it is very difficult to understand why PHAC and CSIS are required to have the appropriate lab staff as well as the full security clearances for comprehensive security measures. Why not necessarily need an updated security policy to protect Canadian intellectual property developed at the Winnipeg laboratory,” he said.

Bloc foreign affairs critic Stephen Bergeron said it was very worrying to learn about the collaboration between the National Microbiology Laboratory and Chinese military scientists.

“It looks like we helped the Chinese military develop their capability on biological warfare,” Mr Bergeron said.

NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris said it was disturbing to see the level of cooperation between the Winnipeg Lab and the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences.

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With reports from Shannon Vanres in Winnipeg and Xiao Xu in Vancouver

Find out what’s happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary, handpicked by Granthshala editors (clients only). .

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