Winnipeg Lab: Government Lurching From Incompetence to Danger on National Security

That Canada naively allowed two Chinese scientists linked to the PLA to work at a level-4 bio-lab in Winnipeg is yet another sign of how much national security is ignored

This piece was first published in The Epoch Times Canada on February 29, 2024.

There is an old saying, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” The meaning behind this axiom is that things may look dire, but they will soon take a turn for the better.

When it comes to the federal government and national security, however, I fear only more darkness for the foreseeable future.

Sticking with the “light” theme, it is dawning on more and more Canadians just how bad things are when national security is concerned. Not only do we have a prime minister and entourage that ignore intelligence on a variety of issues (Beijing’s interference/influence/harassment of dissidents on our soil, Hamas supporters among the protests over Israel’s war in Gaza, Russian disinformation campaigns, etc.), but we also see a government that insists our protectors (CSIS, CSE, and the RCMP among others) are rife with “systemic racism.” This is having a deeply negative effect on those agencies and their employees, according to my sources, and leading to significant departures of seasoned professionals.

And now we are learning just how bad the leak of sensitive biotechnology at a Winnipeg Level 4 laboratory was. Level 4 implies “dangerous agents that usually produce very serious and often untreatable diseases in humans, which can be spread easily through airborne or casual contact.” That this facility was compromised by two individuals believed to be working with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) just makes it all worse.

Let’s unpack this a bit. A country that has already tried to compromise our elections (in 2019 and 2021 and perhaps even earlier), browbeaten Canadian Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, and Falun Gong adherents to stay silent on abuses or face retribution against their families back in China, run illegal “police stations” on our soil, and stolen other technology, is now seen to be using/pilfering our data on highly infectious diseases. This, in the land where COVID-19 began!

It is important not to overreact to this news. We do not know why the Chinese did this or for what end. Fears that the knowledge could be weaponized or sold to terrorist groups are as of yet unfounded. Yet, for a regime that bullies its neighbours, is close to Moscow and Pyongyang, and poses a significant threat to global security, any leak is bad. It will probably prove impossible to find out just how bad this all is since our security agencies are underfunded and under-resourced.

And how has the government responded to this? Alas, as it always does: deny, obfuscate, blame someone else, and keep Canadians in the dark. CSIS warned about this for years and, like the intelligence on election meddling, the agency’s findings were ignored. A member of the Five Eyes community, NATO, and the West should not act in this way.

This would all be highly embarrassing (which it is) at a minimum, but it is more important than just a black eye on the lab and the government’s running of it. We are already seeing our reputation sullied among our allies (retired General Rick Hillier says we are on the road to “irrelevance”) and questions asked about our seriousness on national defence and security matters. Now, we cannot be trusted to ensure that highly sensitive research into biological materials is done properly, that those with access have been properly vetted, and that we minimize the chances of it falling into the wrong hands.

It is no longer–wait it never was–enough for the Health Minister to lament that “there was a lax adherence to the security protocols in place,” and claim “there was an inadequate understanding of the threat of foreign interference.” How can there have been an “inadequate understanding” when CSIS has been passing this message on for decades? Where is the acceptance of responsibility for incompetence? When will intelligence matter in government circles?

China is laughing at us more and more. They have robbed us blind and taken advantage of both our naivete and our morbid fear of being seen as “racist” (Trudeau accused some of “anti-Asian racism” when legitimate questions of PRC interference were raised). They do not play by the same rule book as we do. Perhaps it is time for Canada to do the same.

Perhaps it is time for the government to take intelligence and national security seriously.

Perhaps it is time for a change.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.