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Conservative MP testifies that foreign agents could effectively elect Canada’s prime minister, premiers

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From LifeSiteNews

By Anthony Murdoch

‘We are effectively opening up the appointment of heads of state or provinces,’ warned Conservative Party of Canada MP Michael Chong during testimony at the Foreign Interference Commission.

Foreign affairs critic for the Conservative Party of Canada MP Michael Chong testified before the inquiry looking into alleged meddling in Canada’s last two federal elections that agents of the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) could install a premier, or prime minister of their choosing by infiltrating supposedly closed party leadership races. 

“We are effectively opening up the appointment of heads of state or provinces,” testified Chong to the Foreign Interference Commission, the name of the inquiry tasked with investigating alleged election meddling.

“We could have a situation where a prime minister resigns, and a prime minister is appointed and elected through a leadership process impacted by non-citizens and foreign state actors.”  

During his April 3 testimony, Chong suggested that foreign agents working on behalf of China could install leaders of their choosing. He made the testimony after classified documents from Canada’s intelligence services, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), showed that Chinese operatives were allegedly operating through consulate proxies to elect a person of their choosing.  

Alleged Chinese proxies working for the United Front Work Department have been under intense scrutiny at the Commission. Indeed, the classified intelligence shows that the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew that there was foreign meddling taking place in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections but did not appear to do anything about it.  

As first reported by The Bureau, an intelligence report dated October 2022 claims that CCP agents were active in both provincial and federal party leadership contests during that year.

The assessment did not identify any candidates by their names, but CSIS had been investigating a candidate known only as “CA3” in 2022, during Alberta and British Columbia’s premier leadership races.  

The report from 2022 also claimed that a so-called “PRC-linked proxy” was engaged in trying to “help elect the next leader of a federal political party in Canada,” through means of “encouraging individuals who are supportive of the Chinese Communist Party to join this same political party to influence … a more positive view of China.” 

According to Liberal Party spokesperson Sarah Fischer, she had earlier told The Bureau that they were “not aware of the allegations.” 

The Commission is being headed by Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who had earlier said that she and her lawyers will remain “impartial” and will not be influenced by politics and began on January 29.   

In January, Hogue said that she would “uncover the truth whatever it may be.”   

During testimony last week at the inquiry looking into alleged meddling in Canada’s last two federal elections, the head of the nation’s intelligence agency confirmed that CCP agents did help to elect “pro-China” candidates, also disclosing the existence of a large cash payments scheme totaling $250,000. 

Last week as well, David Vigneault, who serves as CSIS director, told the inquiry that he supports the “conclusions” that the CCP was working to help elect China-friendly Canadian MPs.  

Thus far, the testimony at the Commission has revealed that former Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MP Kenny Chiu said he felt “betrayed” by the federal government after only now learning he was the target of agents of the CCP.  

Also, the public has learned via the inquiry from Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault that he was secretly warned by security agents of irregularities in the 2019 election. 

Recently, it was revealed that Trudeau’s office knew of security warnings against one of his MPs who was helped to get elected by Chinese agents, yet kept him in the party regardless 

When it comes to the CCP, many Canadians, especially pro-freedom Chinese Canadians, are concerned with the nation’s influence in what is supposed to be a democratic process. 

As for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he has in the past praised China for its “basic dictatorship” and has labeled the authoritarian nation as his favorite country other than his own.  

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Crime

The US Canadian border: Greatest number of terrorist watch list individuals being apprehended at northern border

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A Border Patrol agent standing watch at the Montana-Canada border in the CBP Spokane Sector. The Spokane Sector covers the U.S.-Canada border along the northwestern section of Montana, part of Idaho, and the eastern part of Washington.

From The Center Square 

Lack of operational control at northern border poses national security threats

The northern border largely has been unmanned and understaffed for decades as federal reports issue conflicting conclusions about how much, or how little, operational control exists.

Some officials have suggested the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has just 1% operational control over the northern border after a 2019 General Accounting Office audit of U.S. Customs and Border northern border operations. But a December 2022 DHS report claimed, “The Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in its 87-year history,” noting no surveillance of extensive parts of the northern border existed prior to 9/11.

After 9/11, several federal agencies were combined to fall under the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Within 20 years, roughly 950 miles along the U.S.-Canada border from Washington to Minnesota, and roughly 200 miles along the northern border in New York and Lake Ontario, were under unmanned aircraft surveillance. None of these areas “were covered prior to the creation of DHS,” DHS says, meaning the northern border was largely unprotected since Border Patrol’s founding in 1924.

In 2012, DHS released its first unified department strategy for U.S.-Canada border security, prioritizing “deterring and preventing terrorism and smuggling, trafficking, and illegal immigration; safeguarding and encouraging the efficient flow of lawful trade, travel, and immigration; and, ensuring community resiliency before, during, and after terrorist attacks and other disasters.”

Within 10 years at the northern border, more than 2,200 Border Patrol agents were stationed between ports of entry; nearly 3,700 CBP officers were stationed at ports of entry; more than 35 land ports of entry were modernized; and thermal camera systems, mobile and remote video surveillance systems had been deployed.

Havre Sector Border Patrol agent patrolling northern border on an ATV. The Havre Sector covers the U.S.-Canada border along most of Montana’s northern border, and includes part of Idaho and all of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

Despite these improvements, “the northern border is under-resourced by far compared to the southwest border,” former Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan told The Center Square. “But at the same time, it still represents significant threats. Cartels are expanding their operations, flying people into Canada, which doesn’t require a visa, presenting an opportunity for terrorist watch-listed individuals to exploit. It’s much easier to get to Canada to come across.

“Data from 39 months shows terrorist watch-listed individuals are coming here every day and they aren’t stopping,” Morgan added.

For years and prior to the current border crisis, there weren’t enough personnel to cover all shifts, and the infrastructure, technology and equipment afforded to them didn’t compare to those at the southwest border, he said. People can easily drive snow mobiles over frozen territory or boats across the Great Lakes in areas that are unmanned, Morgan said, with a previous policy of self-reporting to authorities.

“The northern border represents a threat,” Morgan said. Noting it only took 19 men to carry out the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Morgan has warned that a terrorist threat is already in the U.S. No one knows how many terrorist watch-listed individuals have illegally entered who weren’t caught, multiple officials have told The Center Square.

While much attention has focused on the southwest border, the greatest number of known or suspected terrorists to ever be apprehended in U.S. history were at the northern border in fiscal 2023, breaking fiscal 2022’s record, The Center Square first reported.

This fiscal year through April, the greatest number of KSTs (known or suspected terrorists) continue to be apprehended at the northern border, 143 so far, according to CBP data.

Potential terrorist threats are not new and have persisted for some time, federal reports indicate. One Border Patrol  intelligence report says terrorist threats potentially come from “foreign violent extremists to exploit established alien smuggling routes and networks for the purpose of evading detection en route to the United States.”

Other threats include drug smuggling from Canada into the U.S., connected to “criminal groups with known ties to or hired by Mexican drug trafficking organizations” and human smuggling. In the last few years, human smuggling attempts and apprehensions have significantly increased, The Center Square has reported.

The Center Square first began reporting on northern border national security threats several years ago. Since then, apprehensions of illegal border crossers in the first six months of fiscal 2024 were the highest on record. In the busiest sector of Swanton, Border Patrol agents recently apprehended more people in one week than they did in all of fiscal 2021.

Last month, they apprehended more than 1,400 illegal border crossers, more than they did in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 combined, Swanton Sector Chief Border Patrol Agent Robert Garcia just announced, saying it was “another record-breaking milestone in northern border history.”

This is after they apprehended more than 6,700 in fiscal 2023, more than the apprehensions of the previous 11 years combined, The Center Square first reported.

The U.S.-Canada border is the longest international border in the world of 5,525 miles. Unlike the U.S.-Mexico border, there are no border walls or similar barriers along the U.S.-Canada border. Through DHS, CBP officers are tasked with border security at ports of entry and Border Patrol agents between ports of entry along 4,000 miles. The U.S. Coast Guard, working with CBP’s Air and Maritime Operations, covers maritime security.

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The Vials and the Damage Done: Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory Scandal, Part II

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From the C2C Journal

By Peter Shawn Taylor

In China, minor security infractions are routinely punished with lengthy jail terms in dreadful conditions. In Canada, it’s just the opposite. Clear evidence of espionage is rewarded with a free pass back home after the mission is complete. Neglecting our national security in this way may suit the Justin Trudeau government, but it is doing great harm to Canada’s relationship with its most important allies. In the concluding instalment of his two-part series, Peter Shawn Taylor examines the many ways in which the spy scandal at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg has damaged Canada’s international standing and contributed to the growing perception that Canada is a foreign agent’s happy place. (Part I is here.)

It is said there are two kinds of secrets in Ottawa: secrets of national importance and secrets of political importance. Some things can’t be publicly revealed because it might endanger Canada’s national security, imperil diplomatic negotiations or weaken our international competitive position. And some other things are kept away from the public eye simply because the information could prove damaging to the government of the day. One of the many questions arising from the recent release of a massive collection of declassified documents related to the spy scandal at Canada’s top-security National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg is in which category this once-secret trove of information belongs.

As described in Part I of this series, the Justin Trudeau government fought ferociously to prevent the release of the files regarding married NML scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng and their connection to Chinese military interests. At one point, the government even threatened to sue the Speaker of the House of Commons to keep the material secret. Following the 2021 election, however, the weakened minority Liberal government relented and made the documents available to a special ad hoc committee of MPs and judges, who then decided it was in the public’s interest for most of the information to be declassified.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (top left) government fought hard to avoid disclosing classified documents concerning scientist couple Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng (bottom left, left to right) – suspected of using their positions at Winnipeg’s top-security National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) (bottom right) to further the interests of Communist China. (Sources of photos: (top left) CBC; (bottom left) Governor General’s Innovation Awards; (bottom right) Winnipeg Architecture Foundation)

The 623-page document, released this past February, includes reports from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and other internal briefings that reveal the many ways Qiu and Cheng acted against the interests of Canada. This includes clandestinely as well as openly transferring intellectual and physical property to Chinese institutions in addition to allowing access to their lab by Chinese researchers, many of whom had direct links to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its bioweapons aspirations. Qiu and Cheng also appear to have been involved with numerous Chinese “talent” programs – thinly-veiled espionage schemes designed to steal know-how from other countries.

Qiu appears to have played a leading role in several significant research projects at the now-notorious Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) while also working for Canada’s federal government. Of note, she arranged to send 30 vials of deadly Ebola and Henipah virus samples from NML’s stockpile to the WIV for reasons that were deliberately kept hidden from her Canadian employers. After their deceptions were uncovered and they were fired from the NML, Qiu and Cheng quietly left the country without any legal consequences. They are currently living in China under new names, evidently working in their preferred occupations.

Deeply embarrassing”: China expert and former diplomat Charles Burton says the long delay in releasing the declassified documents, along with a flurry of other China-related bills and hearings in Ottawa, speaks to the fact “the government has become very vulnerable on China.”

With all this finally in the public domain, it’s now possible to determine why the Liberals were so intent on keeping the files secret. Does this information harm Canada’s national interests, or merely the political interests of the Trudeau Liberals? In fact, it does great damage to both. And much more besides.

Red-faced on China

“This is deeply embarrassing for the government,” observes Charles Burton. The long battle over keeping the NML documents secret, he says in an interview, “was mostly about covering up poor decisions made by the people in charge of the lab while two scientists carried on this extraordinary relationship with China.” Burton is a senior fellow at Sinopsis, a China-focused think-tank based in Prague; he’s also a former diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Beijing and a recently retired professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. While Qiu and Cheng’s surreptitious connections to China were initially uncovered in 2018, Burton notes it wasn’t until 2021 that they were finally fired, and it took another three years before all the details were released. “That something so egregious was kept from the public for so long is really quite troubling,” he says.

The “troubling” NML scandal is just one of many China-related issues bedeviling the federal Liberals. The documents landed just ahead of the current Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions, which also coincides with new legislation on the registry of foreign agents. This recent flurry of activity “shows the government has become very vulnerable on China,” Burton observes.

The foreign interference inquiry’s initial report, for example, establishes clear evidence of Chinese involvement in several electoral constituencies during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. One particularly egregious example is Trudeau’s refusal to act on CSIS warnings about possible Chinese interference at a Liberal nomination meeting in the Toronto riding of Don Valley North (DVN) in 2019 because, as inquiry commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue wrote, doing so could “have direct electoral consequences as the [Liberal Party of Canada] is expected to win DVN.” In other words, Trudeau put his party’s election prospects – and his own desire to remain prime minister – ahead of concerns about China’s influence over Canada’s democratic processes.

That the Liberals are soft on China is hardly a revelation. As Burton notes, it dates back to Trudeau’s failed attempt to open free trade talks with China in 2017. Since then, his Liberal government has been reluctant to treat China as the threat to Canada it has repeatedly proved itself to be. Instead, Ottawa has gone to great lengths to avoid angering Beijing. Examples include the long delay in banning Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks, China’s years-long detention of the Two Michaels, the lingering presence of secret Chinese police stations in Canada, the David Johnson special rapporteur debacle, and on and on.

The Liberals’ soft spot: Following Trudeau’s failed attempt to obtain a free trade deal with China – shown here meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, December 2017 – his government has repeatedly avoided confronting China on many significant issues related to Canada’s national security. (Source of photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Asked if the recent blitz of activity on the China file represents a sea change in the current government’s attitude towards China, Burton remains deeply skeptical. “I don’t think the Liberals are prepared to do anything that would ever permanently compromise their larger project of Canada gaining significant market share in China,” he says, adding, “the Liberal Party still doesn’t get the message that China is not a nation we can engage with, without significant cost to the integrity of Canadian values.”

The Weakest Link

While clearly damning, the incremental damage done by the NML files to the Liberals’ reputation on China is likely minimal. It’s hard to imagine it getting any worse. The more significant blow, says Christian Leuprecht, is to Canada’s international reputation as a vigilant and reliable ally. “For years the Liberals have been accused of not taking the China threat seriously,” says Leuprecht, a national security expert and professor of political science at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada, both located in Kingston, Ontario. “As a result, Canada is currently under significant international scrutiny, especially from our allies in NATO and the U.S., who are concerned about the extent of Chinese infiltration of Canadian political institutions.”

In friendly Western countries, Leuprecht observes in an interview, the Trudeau government’s passivity in the face of Chinese aggression has created the perception Canada does not take matters of national security or defence seriously. And this is weakening the country’s stature abroad. Perhaps the biggest consequence is that Canada is no longer treated as a top-tier member of NATO, the premier Western military alliance. “We are increasingly being left out of meetings, our speaking time is vastly reduced and information is not being shared,” Leuprecht observes.

“Our worst fears”: According to national security expert Christian Leuprecht, the NML spy scandal is a significant blow to Canada’s international reputation; the revelation that Chinese agents penetrated Canada’s highest-security biohazard lab reinforces the belief that Canada is “the weak link” among Western allies.

This contention is backed by Kerry Buck, Canada’s former ambassador to NATO. In a recent interview with the CBC Buck explained that Canada currently occupies NATO’s so-called “quadrant of shame” due to its poor track record on both defence spending and military research. Other evidence of Canada’s waning relevance among its allies includes its exclusion from the expanding Australia/UK/U.S. (AUKUS) defence relationshipand from the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal pact among the U.S., Australia, Japan and India meant to contain Chinese expansion in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

At a time when our allies seem less willing to engage with Canada on defence matters, evidence that our highest-security biohazard lab was exploited by federally-employed Chinese agents strikes to the very core of our reliability. “This is confirmation of our worst fears,” says Leuprecht. “No other country, at least from what we know, has experienced the same degree of infiltration. Everything in these documents reinforces the perception that Canada is the weak link.”

Leuprecht emphasizes that Canada is a small player in the intelligence world, and the worsening perception that the country can’t be trusted to keep its own secrets safe will give allied countries further pause when considering whether to share intelligence with Canada or to include it in operational plans. “None of our allies really needs Canada [in order] to do the things they want to do,” Leuprecht says. “So this significantly reduces our leverage and influence to do the things we want to do internationally. That’s what’s really at stake here.”

“Quadrant of shame”: Kerry Buck (left), Canada’s former ambassador to NATO, notes that her country belongs to a special category of underperforming NATO members due to its lack of commitment on defence spending and military research; this perception has also seen Canada excluded from newly-established security partnerships such as the Australia/UK/U.S. (AUKUS) defence relationship. Shown at right, an AUKUS meeting in March 2023. (Sources of photos: (left) The Foreign Policy Project; (right) Chad J. McNeeley, DOD)

Who Dropped the Ball?

Beyond the harm done to Canada’s political and international reputations, the release of the Qiu-Cheng files puts the performance of domestic agencies involved in the affair, including CSIS, the RCMP and Canada’s federal bureaucracy, under the microscope as well.

Alongside the many Canadian journalists and politicians who have been pouring through the documents, Leuprecht notes that foreign intelligence services will also be studying them carefully and making their own judgements. “What will German intelligence or MI6 or the CIA think about collaborating with Canada in the future when they read these files?” asks Leuprecht. “The first thing they will see is a bunch of rookie mistakes.”

As described in Part I, Qiu and Cheng first came to the attention of CSIS following a routine “insider threat briefing” at the NML in August 2018. An initial investigation into their activities turned up plenty of worrisome evidence, including a Chinese-registered patent filed in Qiu’s name and numerous violations of NML security protocols by Cheng regarding data storage, email security and access to the lab by his foreign research students. All of this could have been sufficient to immediately remove the pair from Canada’s only Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory (BSL4). Yet they didn’t lose their security clearances until July 2019, and weren’t fired until January 2021. Should CSIS bear any responsibility for this lengthy delay?

Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst at CSIS and principal of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. He’s also the author of several books on terrorism. While readily admitting a bias in favour of his former colleagues, Gurski says his reading of the documents is that CSIS acquitted itself ably throughout the affair. In quickly identifying Qiu and Cheng as possible threats, he says in an interview, “CSIS did its job properly. It found things that were inconsistent and worrisome. If someone else dropped the ball, that’s on them.”

Someone else dropped the ball: Phil Gurski, a former strategic analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), says the agency did its job by quickly identifying Qiu and Cheng as possible security threats and informing its federal clients of this fact. Shown at left, CSIS national headquarters building in Ottawa. (Source of left photo: CSIS Canada/Facebook)

Gurski points out that CSIS is merely an intelligence-gathering agency and is not allowed to arrest anyone or carry out any other law enforcement activities. It can only make recommendations to the federal institutions it serves. When it came to dealing with Qiu and Cheng, that decision rested with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which oversees the NML. As explained in Part I, PHAC’s handling of the two scientists was a tedious and unhurried affair, frequently bogged down by human resources requirements and union grievances, including allegations the original CSIS investigation was racist.

Leuprecht further suggests the NML was slow to react because senior administrators were blinded by the celebrity of Qiu, who won a Canadian Governor General’s Innovation Award in 2018 and was internationally recognized for her work on Ebola. “The lab had this superstar scientist and it prioritized a research culture and international collaboration over national security procedures,” he asserts.

“Superstar scientist”: According to Leuprecht, Qiu’s international reputation could have blinded the NML to the concerns that she and her husband were secretly working on behalf of China. Shown, Qiu (at right) accepts a Governor General’s Innovation Award at Rideau Hall from Governor General Julie Payette in 2018. (Source of photo: CBC)

As for CSIS’s conduct, Leuprecht agrees with Gurski’s positive assessment. “My sense is that CSIS did what it was supposed to do,” he says. “There is no suggestion they didn’t take the threat seriously.” Canada’s rookie mistakes, he explains, lie with the bureaucrats and politicians who should have acted with greater alacrity on the information they were given.

Picking Flowers, Making Honey

When he released the once-secret documents in February, federal Health Minister Mark Holland, who is responsible for PHAC, tried to explain away the massive security breach by arguing that such a thing had been impossible to predict at the time. “The extent to which China was attempting to influence the scientific community or to interfere in Canada’s domestic affairs was not known to the extent it is today,” he declared at a press conference the day the files were released. “The threat environment was in a very different place.”

Such claims of innocence are absurd, snaps Leuprecht. Chinese intentions regarding the theft of Western knowledge were obvious prior to the investigation into Qiu and Cheng. He points to a 2018 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), entitled Picking Flowers, Making Honey, that detailed many years of rampant Chinese infiltration of Western universities at the behest of PLA interests.

ASPI data showed Canada ranked third, behind the U.S. and UK, in terms of problematic collaboration between PLA scientists and institutions of higher learning. If that reference is too obscure, Leuprecht offers up his own Toronto Star commentary from the same year headlined “China’s silent invasion of Western universities” that provided a similar warning. “To claim no one knew what China was up to by 2019 is nonsense, complete nonsense,” he fumes. Besides, given the NML’s status as Canada’s highest-security biohazard lab, those in charge should have been alert for all possible risks and incursions, not just those from familiar enemies.  

Flowers picked, honey made: According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Canadian universities rank third, after the U.S. and UK, in the prevalence of academic collaboration with researchers connected to the Communist regime’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). (*As measured by peer-reviewed literature co-authored by PLA scientists, 2006-2017) (Source of graph: ASPI)

Today, even the Trudeau government seems to grudgingly acknowledge it took far too long to recognize the threat Qiu and Cheng posed to Canada’s national security. During a grilling by Conservative MP Michael Chong at the House of Common’s Canada-China Committee last month, Nathalie Drouin, national security intelligence advisor to the prime minister and Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council, admitted that, “From the first signal to the moment the two scientists were put on leave, yes there is a timeline that needs to be looked at.” In response Chong pointed out that the Royal Bank of Canada recently fired its Chief Financial Officer for breaching its code of conduct after an investigation that lasted less than a month. “Two and-a-half years to terminate someone for cause seems like an awfully long time,” he remarked drily.

Despite the many obvious failures in monitoring access to and activities within Canada’s only BSL4 lab, it seems remarkable that no one other than Qiu and Cheng has ever been held to account for the many security oversights and errors in judgement. During his appearance before the Canada-China Committee on April 8, Holland maintained that “the Public Health Agency acted appropriately throughout the process” and said he did not expect anyone else to be fired as a result. He further claimed Ottawa has fixed all the holes in its security procedures revealed by the NML scandal. Then again, Holland previously asserted that “at no time did sensitive information leave the country,” a patently false statement given the wealth of know-how Qiu clandestinely shared with the WIV, not to mention the 30 vials of deadly virus samples she delivered to Wuhan.

“An awfully long time”: Under questioning from Conservative MP Michael Chong (left) at an April meeting of the House of Common’s Canada-China Committee, Nathalie Drouin (right), national security intelligence advisor to the prime minister, reluctantly agreed it took far too long to fire Qiu and Cheng. (Source of screenshots: House of Commons)

As for the RCMP, it claims – with an apparently straight face – to be still investigating Qiu and Cheng. This despite the fact they are now living and working in China, far from the Mounties’ reach. While they may have escaped Canadian justice, Gurski says it’s obvious to him that Qiu and Cheng broke Canadian laws. “You had two people who weren’t who they said they were and who had access to very sensitive technology and information working for a country that is not an ally of Canada,” Gurski explains. “At a minimum, I’d say that’s espionage.”

Leuprecht agrees. “That they were allowed to walk out of the country seems quite stunning,” he notes. “If you want to keep someone in the country, there are lots of ways to go about it.” As it was, they apparently left during the Covid-19 pandemic at a time when China had closed its borders to international air travel. This suggests a deliberate arrangement between Canada and China to keep the whole matter quiet. That’s not how our neighbours do it.

Tougher Action South of the Border

In 2020 U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled the visas of more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers in the U.S. because of their links to universities with ties to the Chinese military. At the time, this presidential proclamation was widely decried as a “costly policy” motivated by “anti-Asian racism”. Today, it seems like common sense, particularly since the Biden Administration has kept it in place.

No pussy-footing around: The U.S. takes a firm approach towards potential Chinese espionage and frequently announces the prosecution of researchers and academics who have hidden their participation in China’s notorious Thousand Talents Program.

Regardless of who is in the White House, the U.S. takes a far stricter view of Chinese interference than does Canada. The FBI maintains a website solely designed to warn American employers about the threat posed by China’s numerous “talent” programs. And the U.S. Department of Justice regularly prosecutes American residents who hide their involvement in such schemes. In 2021, NASA scientist Mayya Mayyappan was fined and sentenced to a month in jail for lying about his participation in China’s national Thousand Talents Program (TTP), as well as hiding evidence of his association with a Chinese university. Last year Charles Lieber, former chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was similarly punished for his long-time secret affiliation with the TTP and for failing to pay taxes on the US$50,000 per month it was paying him.

In addition to cracking down on talent program participants, the U.S. takes a tougher stance on all forms of espionage and intellectual theft. Two months ago, for example, the FBI announced the arrest of Canadian Klaus Pflugbeil and Chinese national Yilong Shao for allegedly conspiring to steal information from a Tesla-owned battery plant in Canada on behalf of Chinese interests. “Today’s arrest demonstrates that this Office will prosecute those who engage in theft of trade secrets and places U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage, undermines innovation and creates a potential national security risk,” reads the U.S. Department of Justice press release. You won’t find such sternly-worded press releases – or the actions to back them up – in Canada.

First try: Electric-car battery expert Yuesheng Wang, a former Hydro-Québec employee, is the only person ever charged in Canada with economic espionage under the 2001 Security of Information Act. He is still awaiting trial. (Sources of photos: (left) Yuesheng Wang/LinkedIn; (right) Gene.arboit, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

In fact, only one person has ever been charged in Canada with economic espionage under the federal Security of Information Act of 2001. Yuesheng Wang was an electric car battery expert at Hydro-Québec when he was arrested in 2022 for allegedly participating in a Chinese talents program and illegally transferring corporate knowledge to China. He is still awaiting trial.

The enormous discrepancy in how Canada and the U.S. deal with such matters is partly explained by flaws in Canada’s legal system regarding the investigation and prosecution of espionage. As an intelligence-gathering service, CSIS is best placed to identify such crimes. And while it can’t enforce any laws on its own, it can share its findings with the RCMP, Canada’s national police force. Unfortunately, this relationship is often awkward and complicated by the fact CSIS intel is not admissible in court because the agency refuses to disclose its sources and methods. “If defence lawyers ever get a whiff of the fact the RCMP has relied on CSIS information,” warns Gurski, “they will demand to test that information in court.” As a result, cases built on CSIS evidence can collapse during trial or are never prosecuted in the first place. It is therefore possible that Qiu and Cheng were allowed to leave the country because Crown prosecutors knew the mountain of evidence against them was inadmissible. The FBI, on the other hand, is both an intelligence gathering and law enforcement agency, and accordingly faces none of these structural problems.

In addition to a serious gap in Canadian law enforcement capabilities, Gurski points out Canada also lacks a “culture of national security”. The politicians and bureaucrats on the receiving end of CSIS reports habitually discount or ignore the evidence they contain because they put a low priority on issues of national security. This is one of the main takeaways from the current foreign interference inquiry: repeated CSIS warnings about Chinese sabotage of Liberal Party nomination meetings or intimidation directed at Conservative MPs (including Chong) were simply not acted upon because no one thought it was very important.

An awkward relationship: Prosecuting spies in Canada is complicated by the fact CSIS refuses to disclose its sources and methods in court, while the RCMP, Canada’s national police service, lacks CSIS’s expertise in intelligence gathering. Shown, CSIS Director David Vigneault (left) and RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme (right) at a parliamentary hearing in February 2024. (Source of photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

The long delay in confronting the threat posed by Qiu and Cheng might also be ascribed to what Gurski calls “inconvenient intelligence”. That is, CSIS warnings may have conflicted with the Liberal government’s pre-existing attitude towards China. Dealing head-on with Chinese espionage at the NML would likely have angered China, and caused it to retaliate, as it did in the Two Michaels affair. Australia similarly faced a devastating ban on coal exports to China after it raised concerns about Chinese spying. And the Liberals would have been very keen to avoid such unpleasantness.

By comparison, says Gurski, the U.S. and UK governments place a high value on their own counterintelligence programs and frequently take immediate and forceful action based on what their spy agencies tell them. This is not to say other countries haven’t also suffered from Chinese espionage efforts, or made mistakes in how they deal with such threats. But at least they are actively trying to defend themselves.

Spies Welcome

Despite the wealth of information included in the NML document dump, Leuprecht admits it is impossible to determine the true nature of Qiu and Cheng’s deception. They could have been sleeper agents of the sort featured in the TV series The Americans, inserted into Canadian society decades ahead of their mission. Or they might have been recruited only after gaining access to the highest levels of the NML. It is even possible they were simply naïve dupes manipulated by clever Chinese operatives into doing the bidding of the PLA under the guise of improving international scientific collaboration. Regardless, what stands out for Leuprecht is “the boldness with which they continued operating even after they’d been tipped off.”

One final mission: According to the declassified documents, Qiu (shown at top working at the NML) was aware she was being watched by her employer when she sent 30 vials of Ebola and Henipah virus samples to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019 prior to having her security clearance revoked. Shown, the devastating effects of Ebola in Guinea (bottom left) and Henipah in India (bottom right). (Sources of photos: (top) CBC; (bottom left) EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; (bottom right) Sky News)

Of particular interest is that shipment of 30 vials of deadly Ebola and Henipah virus samples from the NML to the WIV on March 29, 2019. As the declassified CSIS files show, these materials were considered crucial to a research project at the WIV headed by Qiu. Yet at the time of the shipment, Qiu and Cheng already knew they were being watched; both had been interviewed about their security protocol habits by an independent investigator hired by the PHAC on February 15, 2019.

“My guess,” says Leuprecht, “is that they got direction from Beijing to get whatever they could out of the lab and that they would be taken care of and rewarded.” Given how things turned out – with both Qiu and Cheng now living comfortably in China in high-profile academic positions under new names – it seems an entirely reasonable bit of speculation.

And it is this final twist that represents the most serious and longest-lasting blow delivered by the entire Qiu-Cheng affair: the signal to the world that Canada is a spy’s happy hunting grounds. Not only were Qiu and Cheng allowed to keep their security clearances for 10 months after being identified as possible threats, but they were also able to successfully complete their final task. And afterwards they left Canada for China – perhaps extracted is a better term – without any legal repercussions or sanctions. It is a tale that will resonate not just with agents on the hunt for sensitive information about viruses useful to China’s bioweapons plans, but anyone seeking to penetrate numerous other Canadian research facilities in the government, university and private sectors across a multitude of other key scientific and technological areas.

“The message we are sending is that if you want to infiltrate a country, Canada is a great place to go,” declares Leuprecht. “We are not particularly vigilant, and if we do catch you, we will let you leave the country so you can have a great career in China afterwards. If you were sitting in China reading through these 623 pages, you’d say to yourself, ‘Canada, that’s the country we’re going after.’”

“Canada is a great place to go”: The fact Qiu and Cheng returned to China without any legal repercussions sends a clear message to other foreign agents, says Leuprecht. “We are not particularly vigilant, and if we do catch you, we will let you leave the country.” Shown, a still from the 1963 movie The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen; unlike Qiu and Cheng, McQueen’s character failed in his escape attempt.

Peter Shawn Taylor is senior features editor at C2C Journal. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

The Scientists Who Came in From the Cold: Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory Scandal, Part I

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