Madam Speaker, I salute our Conservative colleagues.
The House is debating a motion that hits on something, which is that, ultimately, parliamentarians should have rights. When we adopt something like a motion, it should not just fade into oblivion, like a big show or circus just passing through, as if it stops mattering once the vote has taken place.
We are constantly being told that under Canada's parliamentary system, which originated in the United Kingdom, Parliament is the supreme body and has all the powers, and that the legislative branch does everything and the government is accountable to it. However, in the end, we see that the votes in this Parliament are forgotten and serve no purpose. Is this normal? Is that how this parliamentary system, the virtues of which are constantly being dinned into our ears, is supposed to work?
We are also told that this is a parliamentary monarchy, but I think the monarchy part gets more air time in the House than the parliamentary part. Apparently, the legislative power is merely symbolic when we vote on a motion, as is the case here.
In fact, I see the same thing in my files. I am the international trade critic, and every time a trade agreement is discussed, we, as parliamentarians, are not asked to tell the negotiators which issues we want them to play up or down, or which interests they should suggest or protect. We are not consulted at all, and it is only at the end of the process that we are asked to rubber-stamp it.
The motion moved by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, a member of the official opposition, also hits the nail on the head with regard to this whole parliamentary culture, which is parliamentary in name only. That is unacceptable.
The Bloc Québécois was in favour of the motion, but it questioned some aspects of it. The government House leader spoke earlier about information that could impact national security and that must not end up in the wrong hands, redacted information that should not be revealed. The Bloc Québécois also expressed concern in that regard, and we told our official opposition colleagues that we agreed with their motion but that we were somewhat concerned about that aspect of it.
That did not stop us from voting in favour of the motion, because we figured that any disclosure of information had to be approved in committee and that there were enough members who would vote to prevent sensitive or essential information from being leaked, since no party holds a majority in committee. I therefore do not really understand the motivation or rationale behind the concerns of our colleague opposite, the government House leader.
There is something else we need to address, and the member for Louis‑Saint‑Laurent touched on it earlier when he said that the Conservatives' motion was not meant to stigmatize China or the Chinese community.
The Bloc Québécois has a completely different approach to China than the Conservative Party. We have always spoken in favour of normalizing relations with China, and we are in favour of maintaining good relations between our two countries, even though these relations have worsened over time.
Just a few years ago, we had excellent relations, to the point that we almost signed a free trade agreement with China. We were seriously considering it. The Bloc Québécois would have been against such an agreement because it would not have been a good idea. However, the fact that we were talking about this proposal and it has now been completely abandoned shows that our relations with China have deteriorated.
All the same, that should not stop us from remaining clear-eyed. My colleague from the Bloc Québécois, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean, has brought up the situation of the Uighurs several times. The week following the election, we also voted with the Conservatives in favour of creating the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.
Our position is one of respect, because China went a long time without getting the respect it was due. For a long time, it was not even recognized. It was France, under the insightful General de Gaulle, that finally recognized that China was more than just Taiwan. That was the right thing to do.
Still, we have to be clear-eyed about the fact that human rights abuses are happening and that some serious issues there need to be discussed. I will not go over the timeline or talk about how the doctor, her husband and her students were removed from the lab. I think the timeline is well established. However, that does raise some questions about the labs.
Let us talk about the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada's only containment level 4 virology lab. This lab handles some of the most dangerous pathogens on the planet. This kind of lab follows very strict protocols to prevent viruses from escaping, which would have disastrous consequences.
This kind of facility also has numerous chemical showers, and employees have to don pressurized rubber suits with external air supplies. Security protocols are highly detailed. Everything is closely monitored and tightly controlled. Access to the lab is tightly controlled, as is egress, of course. We do not want anything getting in that should not be there, and we definitely do not want anything getting out that should not be out. Very few people have access to the lab.
A level 4 lab does not usually work with viruses like COVID‑19. That kind of virus is usually handled in a level 3 lab. A level 4 lab typically handles pathogens for which there is no antibody or treatment.
As members know, according to certain conspiracy theories, Dr. Qiu and Dr. Cheng shipped the COVID‑19 virus to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. For the reason I just mentioned, this theory does not hold up. The laboratory actually deals with viruses like Ebola, Lassa fever, smallpox, henipaviruses and other similar virus types. It is managed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and it is the type of laboratory that is designed to prevent pathogens from being released in the event of an earthquake or a fire, for example.
Let us now talk about the laboratories in China. It is quite an interesting subject. China has two level 4 laboratories, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute.
The Wuhan institute was established in collaboration with France. One of its features is that it can handle viruses like the coronavirus, and this is the source of the conspiracy theory that emerged early in the pandemic and recently resurfaced, namely, that the COVID‑19 virus escaped from a laboratory. The Wuhan lab holds the world's largest collection of coronaviruses. We know that China has been somewhat lax and that there have been leaks in a number of areas. My colleagues probably remember SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. Well, SARS escaped from level 3 labs in Beijing several times in the past, despite the fact that it posed a very high risk to the population.
Most scientists agree that the virus came from animals rather than the Wuhan lab, although this possibility has not been ruled out. Let us agree that if this does turn out to be the case, the COVID‑19 crisis would truly be to China what Chernobyl was to the Soviet Union. It is a disaster of the same magnitude.
Still, we need to bear in mind one aspect that has been observed and that was mentioned in a 2017 article published in the journal Nature. In this article, a number of researchers showed that the Chinese regime its lack of transparency was preventing laboratories from being safe, because it was impossible to criticize the authorities and the senior ranks. If anything went wrong, they might be tempted to cover up what was going on.
At the Wuhan institute, the risk of a leak is significant. In the case at hand, it is surprising that Canada allowed the shipment of virus samples.
It would be very surprising if this shipment caused the virus to make its way from Canada to China. I explained why a little earlier. Nevertheless, it is very surprising that the shipment was allowed.
There is no denying that there are concerns about safety.
In 2005, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States recreated the Spanish flu in a laboratory so they could study it and better understand how it works. They tested the virus on animals, and the animals quickly died. The U.S. military also took an interest in the virus, studying several sample fragments to sequence the virus's genomes.
China may well be conducting similar tests, but its lack of transparency makes it impossible to know for sure. China is particularly interested in Ebola and is investing heavily in Africa, but those investments could be threatened by a resurgence of the virus.
This research raises concerns about the possible use of other countries' intellectual property. China is known for taking intellectual property from Canada.
In May 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans to make a potential Chinese vaccine available to the entire planet. The reality is that China is giving away some doses, but it is also selling them to other countries. As everyone knows, China sells licenses, so it is already much better than pharmaceutical companies in the western world. However, China is using vaccines to pressure Taiwan. For instance, China recently pressured Pfizer to stop distributing the vaccine directly to Taiwan, to force the Taiwanese administration to negotiate with Beijing.
It is important to understand that, generally speaking, in the health context, China is a real expert when it comes to collecting data, especially medical data.
Of course, I could go on and on about China's economic and trade strategy, but let us focus on what China refers to in its official communications as the belt and road initiative.
When this initiative was launched a few years ago, it was essentially about transportation infrastructure. However, a health component was added during the pandemic, and a digital component was also developed. In the issue we are concerned with today, that may represent something much bigger that we will have to examine.
China is investing heavily in research and development and in various technologies, such as 5G, data centres and artificial intelligence. It has adopted policies concerning global collection of health data. Private technology firms are extremely integrated with the research arm of the military. China's and Canada's data protection standards are quite different. It is important to know that.
Take the Chinese firm BGI, for example. BGI's headquarters are located in Shenzhen, which is known as the Chinese Silicon Valley. During the COVID-19 pandemic, BGI donated equipment to almost 20 countries, but a dozen or so U.S. states refused them out of fear. They rejected this seemingly generous offer. BGI also has many partnerships with hospitals, universities and research centres.
BGI is listed on the Chinese stock exchange, which is regulated by Beijing. BGI built and manages the China National GeneBank DataBase, which is under government control. This database holds the largest number of genetic and biological samples in the world. BGI sometimes uses the Chinese army's supercomputers to process genetic data. This shows that everything is closely connected: the data collection, the companies, the military and the Chinese government.
The lab at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto analyzes 15,000 COVID‑19 test samples every day. In 2020, the lab did not have enough money to pay for equipment, but it received donated equipment from BGI Group. This equipment included an extraction robot that speeds up the process for analyzing COVID‑19 tests. The company also installed the equipment and provided training and logistical support. Global Affairs Canada remained silent on the issue.
BGI has an office in Montreal, Quebec, on Avenue du Parc. The company's website claims that this office has been conducting genome sequencing since 2019. However, in an interview with Radio-Canada, BGI denied that this office did sequencing. It even said that the office was closed and that no one worked there. Who is telling the truth, BGI or BGI? Do we believe their website or their official statement? Actually, these are both types of official statements.
As far as the public is aware, there are six BGI sequencers in Canadian universities and research centres, including in Quebec. In Quebec's case, the two devices at McGill University remain BGI's property. McGill University claims that the data is not shared with the company, but it refuses to answer questions on where the data is stored and who is authorized to access it. BGI also has a maintenance agreement regarding the machines. That means that company technicians have access to the machines and can do whatever they like with the data they contain.
Canada is the only country in North America with BGI sequencers. Apart from the equipment, the company has also entered into a scientific collaboration with Genome Canada. It is normal that such an agreement should be confidential. However, there are still two major issues with it, namely data collection and China's commercial power grab in America's biopharmaceutical sector.
We know that China is collecting DNA data and sometimes uses it for repressive purposes. That has been proven and documented. The lab at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto that I was talking about earlier claims that no data is shared with BGI. The people at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in Washington are looking into that, and they are worried about China controlling America's biopharmaceutical industry.
Of course, Washington also has its own imperialistic tendencies and its own ways of using data, algorithms and so on. One empire is criticizing another and creating one of its own. However, that is not the issue.
We can still consider the recent 750-page report that was just submitted to the U.S. Congress and President Joe Biden, in which the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence also warns the country about these practices.
Did Canada consider those issues too? Presumably not. Unfortunately, the tone that the government is taking today on this motion regarding past events suggests that it is no more prepared to face the present and future than it is the past.