Canada’s Connections to Wuhan: What a Mess, Eh? 

Gorodenkoff /
Gorodenkoff /

Canadians are known for their hockey prowess and an unwavering commitment to saying “sorry” even when it’s not their fault. But beneath those polite exteriors lies espionage and a remarkable spy game, one that rivals the cloak-and-dagger theatrics of James Bond, but with more parkas and fewer martinis. 

In a story matched in its stupidity only by a U.S. president leaving classified documents unsecured in a garage, Canadian researchers Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and Dr. Keding Cheng let visitors with ties to the Chinese military and government wander around unsupervised at Canada’s highest biosecurity lab, The Canadian National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  

Biosecurity labs are specifically engineered to oversee biological agents that are capable of causing severe or fatal diseases for which no treatments exist. In Canada, the NML alone manages numerous dangerous viruses, placing it at the forefront of research and containment efforts for highly infectious pathogens in the country. 

Qiu was the head of the vaccines and antivirals department at the NML. In September 2018, concerns arose when it was revealed that she was listed as the inventor of a Chinese patent associated with an Ebola treatment. This patent allegedly contained data generated at the NML, which was shared without proper authorization.  

Qiu claimed that she was unaware that her name was listed on the patent, but witnesses doubted the plausibility of a researcher’s name appearing on the document without their knowledge. Her actions sparked worries regarding national security and potential coercion or exploitation by a foreign entity. Consequently, Dr. Qiu was escorted out of the NML in July 2019 and terminated in January 2021.  

Dr. Keding Cheng, Qiu’s husband, also found his job terminated and clearances revoked because he supplied China with classified information and materials. Suspicions first emerged about Cheng in October 2018 when students were discovered attempting to leave with two plastic bags containing vials of an unidentified substance. A few weeks later, Cheng tried to smuggle two empty Styrofoam containers from the lab, which are typically used to transport viruses. Additionally, the PHAC alleged that in May 2018, Dr. Cheng received vials containing mouse protein from China, which were falsely labeled as “kitchen utensils.” 

A recent investigation has unveiled even more shocking revelations about the couple. According to a comprehensive 600-page report released by the Canadian intelligence service, the couple was secretly transmitting information to Beijing and even mailed live Ebola samples to China. Moreover, they were accused of permitting visitors into the lab, some of whom attempted to leave with plastic bags containing vials of an unidentified substance. The security breaches were egregious, like allowing restricted visitors to download experimental data from the lab and send it to their email accounts.  

 In addition to sending Ebola to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Qiu also sent Henipavirus in a shipment totaling 30 vials. Additionally, the report alleges she had been contracted to work for the WIV on a “personal” trip to China in 2018. Further, Qiu was found to have brought restricted visitors to the lab, including a woman who held a passport reserved for Chinese civil servants and a research assistant at the Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing. 

Perhaps most telling, however, is the report’s allegations that Qiu participated in Beijing’s Thousand Talents Program, which was intended to compensate those conducting research that advanced Chinese fiscal interests. Qui negotiated an employment contract with Hebei Medical University in Shijiazhuang, China, from 2018 to 2022, with a proposed payment of $1.2 million to support her research. Additionally, Qiu and Cheng maintained an undisclosed bank account at China’s Commercial Bank, and Qiu applied to participate in a program at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), committing to “enhance China’s biosecurity platform for new and potent infectious disease research.” 

The Canadian Government has battled to keep the investigation hidden for years, as per media reports. In 2021, the CSIS released a heavily redacted version of the inquiry, which sparked an outcry from the country’s Conservative opposition amid allegations of a cover-up. However, this week, they were compelled to release the documents following a national security review conducted by a special parliamentary committee. 

While Canada might not choose to be outed for espionage, America’s friendly northern neighbors have more than syrup and slapshots up their sleeves. But one thing is sure: Canada is undoubtedly, and politely, sorry for the mishap.