Canada Should Probe WHO’s Handling of Pandemic, Say Experts

April 21, 2020 Updated: April 22, 2020

As the United States withholds funding to the World Health Organization, experts are suggesting Canada engage in a review of the U.N. agency’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak along with other member states, with one saying Ottawa should follow Washington’s lead.

J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa and the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, said there should be a thorough investigation to examine how the WHO handled the outbreak and its interactions with its member countries, particularly China.

“As a smaller country and donor to the WHO, Canada should work in concert with a group of concerned democracies in ensuring that appropriate reviews at the WHO and within the U.N. are carried out,” he said in an interview.

While not suggesting halting funding to the WHO, Cole added that he supports “sending strong signals of discontent to the WHO over the manner in which it and its director-general have handled the COVID-19 crisis. A thorough investigation of the possible nefarious influence of a certain country within that organization is warranted.”

Having multiple member countries work together from within the body to probe how the WHO has dealt with the crisis would be more effective, Cole said.

“I believe that working within the system, rather than from the outside after leaving it, has better chances of yielding constructive results. But that means real work, real dedication, and real leadership on the part of our politicians and officials,” he said.

“We’ve been cruising for too long while China has been very aggressive in its efforts to increase its influence within the U.N. It’s time we took that challenge seriously.”

For around three weeks after the WHO was notified of the outbreak on Dec. 31, 2019, the agency echoed statements from Chinese officials that there was no evidence or a low risk of the virus being contagious. But a growing body of evidence shows the Chinese regime was aware the virus was spreading between humans well before it publicly confirmed human-to-human transmission on Jan. 20.

On April 15, President Donald Trump announced that U.S. funding would be temporarily suspended pending a review “to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” as he accused the organization of being too close to China.

The United States is the single largest donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019—roughly 12 percent of the agency’s budget. Canada had contributed US$100.5 million as of the 2018-19 reporting period.

Philip Carl Salzman, a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and emeritus professor of anthropology at McGill University, believes Canada should follow in America’s footsteps and put a hold on its funding to the WHO.

“I do not know of any special reasons that Canada should act other than the general one that China is as great a threat to Canada as it is to the U.S.,” he said in an interview.

Ottawa has followed WHO’s recommendations since the pandemic began and has remained firm in its support of the organization, although this week said there is a “critical need” for the WHO to carry out a post-pandemic investigation into its response.

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that the issue was raised during a call between International Development Minister Karina Gould and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on April 20. The statement added that Gould started the conversation by “conveying Canada’s appreciation for the WHO’s leadership in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Last week, Gould said Ottawa is disappointed that the United States decided to halt funding to WHO, and said member countries will have to figure out a way to make up for the shortfall.

On April 16, leaders of the Group of Seven countries, of which Canada is a member, called for a thorough review and reform of the WHO amid a “lack of transparency and chronic mismanagement of the pandemic” by the organization, according to a statement from the White House.

“The leaders recognized that the G7 nations annually contribute more than a billion dollars to the World Health Organization, and much of the conversation centered on the lack of transparency and chronic mismanagement of the pandemic by the WHO,” the statement said.

“The leaders called for a thorough review and reform process.”

As questions mount about the relationship between the WHO and Beijing that may have influenced the organization’s response to the virus outbreak—and in turn Canada’s—Official Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer said Canada needs to hold WHO accountable “for their dependence or reliance or over-confidence on the information that is coming from China,” he said.

“We need to hold institutions accountable, we need to scrutinize their decisions,” he told CTV News. “Let’s get these officials before committee. Let’s stop vouching for the communist regime in China.”