Canada's National Microbiology Lab Defends Security After Researchers Fired for China Ties

The security breach at Canada's top microbiology lab raises concerns about foreign interference and the need for robust oversight. PHAC claims to have tightened controls, but MPs remain skeptical about the lack of consequences for other employees involved.

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Sakchi Khandelwal
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Canada's National Microbiology Lab Defends Security After Researchers Fired for China Ties

Canada's National Microbiology Lab Defends Security After Researchers Fired for China Ties

Heather Jeffrey, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), has claimed that the reputation of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg remains unharmed despite security breaches by two fired scientists, Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng.

Qiu and Cheng were found to have passed confidential information to China and allowed Chinese military scientists into the Level 4 lab, which handles the most dangerous pathogens.

Jeffrey appeared before a parliamentary committee to defend the lab's security protocols against accusations of bureaucratic incompetence from opposition MPs. Records show that Qiu and Cheng played down their collaborations with Chinese government agencies. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service concluded that Qiu repeatedly lied about the extent of her work with China and was "reckless" in her dealings with various Chinese entities.

MPs questioned why Qiu was allowed to continue sensitive work while under investigation. PHAC officials stated that new processes and policies have been put in place to detect such issues more quickly in the future. Jeffrey blamed the breaches solely on Qiu and Cheng, who were fired in 2021 after a CSIS investigation found they engaged in clandestine meetings with Chinese officials.

The RCMP is conducting a national security investigation, but Qiu and Cheng have not been prosecuted for any criminal charges. Some MPs expressed concern that "incompetent" PHAC employees have not faced consequences, while others questioned whether the updated protocols would have prevented the unauthorized shipment of pathogens to China's Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2019.

Why this matters: The security breach at Canada's top microbiology lab raises concerns about the integrity of sensitive research and the potential for foreign interference. It highlights the need for robust security measures and oversight at institutions handling dangerous pathogens and confidential information.

Jeffrey maintained that PHAC has since tightened security controls, enhanced surveillance, and added new procedures on student hiring at the National Microbiology Laboratory. However, she could not definitively say whether the updated protocols would have stopped the unauthorized shipment of viruses to the Wuhan lab, calling it a hypothetical question. Opposition MPs remain skeptical, with some expressing their "stunned" reaction to the lack of consequences for other PHAC employees involved in the incident.

Key Takeaways

  • PHAC president claims lab's reputation unharmed despite security breaches by fired scientists.
  • Fired scientists Qiu and Cheng passed confidential info to China, allowed Chinese military access.
  • PHAC claims new security measures, but can't say if they'd have stopped unauthorized virus shipment.
  • RCMP investigating, but no criminal charges against Qiu and Cheng so far.
  • MPs skeptical about lack of consequences for other PHAC employees involved in the incident.