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Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc acknowledged the two scientists posed a national-security threat because they had access to highly secret information from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, information they obtained to pass on to China.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the RCMP are continuing to investigate the activities of two scientists who were fired from Canada’s high-security National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for covertly working with China’s military.

Mr. LeBlanc said he could not provide further information on the state of the national-security investigation in testimony Monday night before the Special Committee on the Canada–People’s Republic of China Relationship, which is holding hearings to delve into the massive security breach at the Winnipeg lab.

“They are currently under investigation,” the minister testified. “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on any further specifics.”

Declassified documents tabled in the House of Commons in late February showed that Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng provided confidential scientific information to China and that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service found Dr. Qiu was associated with multiple talent-recruitment programs run by Chinese authorities.

The Globe and Mail revealed in March that the pair are now working in China and that Dr. Qiu is collaborating with researchers from the People’s Liberation Army. The couple are using the pseudonyms Sandra Chiu and Kaiting Cheng, conducting research at prestigious institutions in China and alongside some of that country’s most noted scientists.

The two scientists were fired after a probe found they engaged in clandestine meetings with Chinese officials. Dr. Qiu posed “a realistic and credible threat to Canada’s economic security,” investigators said, while Mr. Cheng posed “a very serious and credible security danger to the government of Canada.”

The couple were escorted out of the National Microbiology Laboratory in July, 2019, and later had their security clearances revoked. They were fired in January, 2021.

Mr. LeBlanc acknowledged the two scientists posed a national-security threat because they had access to highly secret information from the Level 4 infectious-disease lab, information they obtained to pass on to China.

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NDP MP Charlie Angus said he was startled to know that Dr. Qiu and the Public Health Agency of Canada had approved the transfer of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses on an Air Canada flight even though PHAC had been alerted that she and her husband might be security risks.

“How the hell did that happen?” Mr. Angus asked. “They walked out with viruses of Ebola and got on the plane. How is it possible they got on a plane with deadly viruses?”

He asked why no one was fired or disciplined for what happened.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper said there needs to be an explanation for why it took 3½ months to suspend the two scientists after this incident and when the agency and CSIS had information about their collaboration with China’s military. He called Dr. Qiu and Mr. Cheng “agents of Beijing.”

“On March 23, 2019, PHAC knew that these scientists were collaborating with the People’s Liberation Army. This is a Level 4 lab. It is supposed to be Canada’s highest security lab,” he said. “Shouldn’t they have been marched out the very next day?”

Mr. LeBlanc replied that he asked himself the same questions about the transfer of the viruses and other allegations but did not inform the committee how that happened. That is for the Minister of Health and Public Health Agency of Canada to respond, he said.

He conceded that the failure to recognize that the two scientists were helping China was a security failure.

In testimony last week, Health Minister Mark Holland called the actions of the two scientists “reprehensible and deeply disturbing,” saying they were fired for the “lies that they told.” But he said no blame should be cast on the PHAC.

“The Public Health Agency acted appropriately throughout that process in responding to those lies and that misinformation,” he told the committee.

Mr. Cooper raised concerns last week that Dr. Qiu was allowed to transfer deadly Ebola from the Winnipeg lab to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in October, 2018, even though PHAC was already aware that she was named on a Chinese patent, which was highly suspicious. She had also been flagged to CSIS by the head of the Winnipeg lab as a potential national-security threat.

“Why in the world with that knowledge would PHAC transfer deadly, dangerous pathogens to Wuhan at the request of a scientist that PHAC knew at that time was a potential national-security risk?” he asked.

Mr. Holland replied that the transfer was done in the “full knowledge and with the full co-operation” of PHAC in the interest of “advancing the protection of our species against the infectious diseases of Ebola.”

Heather Jeffrey, president of PHAC, testified that security has been significantly upgraded since the two scientists were dismissed.

In addition to the enhanced security controls, the high-security lab has imposed tougher measures around documentation and verification of infectious materials including transfer agreements and collaborative research agreements, Ms. Jeffrey said.

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