Chinese spying, disease theft a ‘grave concern,’ says human rights lawyer

End secrecy about possible Winnipeg COVID theft: David Matas

David Matas, human rights lawyer: “The lifting of secrecy about the theft of viruses from the Winnipeg lab which were taken to Wuhan Institute of Virology in China would allow for a publicly available study on whether there is any link between that theft and the outbreak of COVID in Wuhan" | Photo: Reptile8488/Getty Images

Canada needs to take Chinese spying seriously in the wake of the espionage theft of disease intellectual property from a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) case and possibly from Winnipeg in connection with COVID-19, a human rights lawyer says.

“The lifting of secrecy about the theft of viruses from the Winnipeg lab which were taken to Wuhan Institute of Virology in China would allow for a publicly available study on whether there is any link between that theft and the outbreak of COVID in Wuhan,” David Matas said.

Parliament has ordered disclosure of documents on the Winnipeg lab case involving several Chinese nationals and a possible link to China’s military.

And, on Aug. 10, Glacier Media revealed that, according to RCMP documents obtained through access to information laws, a Chinese agent had targeted a CFIA researcher with research on animal brucellosis, a highly contagious disease transmittable to humans, going to China.

“Chinese spying and Chinese theft from a Winnipeg laboratory are a matter of grave concern, whether there is any link to the COVID virus or not,” Matas said. “Even if one can establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no link between, on the one hand, Chinese spying in Canada and Chinese theft from the Winnipeg laboratory and, on the other hand, the COVID virus, we should still be concerned about the spying and theft.”

Both cases were subject to RCMP scrutiny.

China’s embassy in Ottawa has yet to respond to requests for comment.

Now, Parliament wants to know connections between the Winnipeg lab and Chinese military researchers, although the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has denied any connections but documents the subject of legal dispute and security clearances of those allowed to see them.

Matas, though, said any privacy and security considerations should be outweighed by the public interest in finding out exactly what was stolen from the Winnipeg lab and taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“Mere assurances, and I have seen these, that the theft had nothing to do with the COVID virus and related only to Ebola and Henipah, do not, in my view, suffice,” Matas said.

In the CFIA case, RCMP documents said Dr. Klaus Nielsen was targeted 20 years ago with espionage techniques aimed at obtaining his research on animal brucellosis, a highly contagious disease transmittable to humans.

Nielsen was arrested in October 2012 headed to Ottawa airport en route to China. With him were 17 vials of brucella bacteria packed in a thermos of ice inside a child's lunch bag in carry-on luggage, a 2017 Ontario Court of Justice ruling said.

“The brucella bacteria and the disease it causes, brucellosis, can infect people and animals such as sheep, cattle, goats and pigs,” Ontario Superior Court of Justice Heather Perkins-McVey said in sentencing Nielsen to two years in prison.

“Canada cannot protect their international property,” the judge said.

And, said Matas, “We could do better.  Foreign agents registry legislation would not stop spying. It would make it more difficult.”

Members of Parliament are now wrangling over those protections as they try to get to the bottom of COVID’s possible Winnipeg origins and the shipping of other deadly diseases from Winnipeg to Wuhan, where COVID began its deadly global rampage that would leave 4.3 million dead, including more than 26,500 Canadians.

The Nielsen targeting information further fuels that wrangling, Matas said.

The story continues to unfold as Chinese courts announced Aug. 10 that they have denied Canadian drug convict Robert Schellenberg’s appeal of his death sentence at the same time the high-profile Huawei senior officer Meng Wanzhou extradition hearings are taking place in Vancouver.

Two other Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were arrested soon after Meng was detained by Canadian officials. 

Spavor was charged and convicted by Chinese court of espionage and providing state secrets. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail Aug. 11.

Beijing has denied the arrests are linked to the Meng case although many believe them to be retaliatory. And Meng’s lawyer has called the U.S. extradition request 'a legal kidnapping.'

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

twitter.com/jhainswo