Two Scientists Fired From Top Canadian Laboratory Amid Police Investigation

Two Scientists Fired From Top Canadian Laboratory Amid Police Investigation
The National Microbiology Laboratory is shown in Winnipeg on May 19, 2009. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

A prominent Chinese Canadian scientist and her husband have been fired by the Public Health Agency of Canada after they were evicted from the National Microbiology Laboratory under a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigation that remains largely a mystery.

“The two scientists are no longer employed by the Public Health Agency of Canada as of Jan. 20, 2021,” Eric Morrissette, chief of media relations for Health Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), told CBC News in an email on Feb. 5.

“We cannot disclose additional information, nor comment further, for reasons of confidentiality.”

On July 5, 2019, Xiangguo Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng, and a number of Qiu’s students were escorted from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) and were stripped of their security access, according to an earlier report by CBC.

PHAC told CBC that Qui and the others were removed for possible “policy breach” and administrative reasons, which was referred to the RCMP in Manitoba.

The NML is Canada’s only Containment Level 4 lab, which has the highest level of security and safety facilities for the storage and the research of the most deadly human and animal pathogens, such as Ebola.

Virus Shipments to China

In June 2020, documents that CBC had obtained through an Access to Information request four months before she and her husband were evicted from the NML, revealed that Qiu was responsible for a shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2019.
The shipment had raised public speculations of the couple involved in espionage activities, which Morrissette had described as “misinformation” that lacked "factual basis." The PHAC had also denied connections of the shipment and Qiu’s eviction from the Winnipeg-based lab.
Qiu co-authored an Ebola study, which was first published in December 2018, three months after she began exporting the viruses to China.

The study received grants from a number of Chinese government bodies, including the Ministry of Science and Technology of China and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The lead author, Hualei Wang, is affiliated with the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, a Chinese military medical institute based in Beijing, CBC reported.

Qiu was the head of the Vaccine Development and Antiviral Therapies Section in the Special Pathogens Program at the NML lab. She is known for the development of ZMapp, a drug used for the treatment of the Ebola virus that had caused the death of over 11,000 people in West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

Qiu came to Canada for graduate studies in 1996, but she remains affiliated with the universities in Tianjin, China, where she had worked as a medical doctor and virologist.

Qiu had made at least five trips to China between 2017 and 2018, including one time to train Chinese scientists and technicians at a newly certified Level 4 lab, the CBC reported in October 2019.