The University of Manitoba has suspended a Chinese researcher working at the National Microbiology Laboratory, where colleagues say she’s been accused of sharing the lab’s research.

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The University of Manitoba has suspended a Chinese researcher working at the National Microbiology Laboratory, where colleagues say she’s been accused of sharing the lab’s research.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) called in the RCMP on May 24 over "possible policy breaches" involving Xiangguo Qiu, who hails from China.

"Dr. Qiu’s appointment as a non-salaried adjunct at the University of Manitoba has ended, pending the RCMP investigation," wrote university spokesman John Danakas on Monday.

Sources familiar with the lab, whose names the Free Press is withholding as they risk losing their jobs, said Qiu is being investigated over claims she shared research. It’s unclear whether she’s accused of disclosing information to lab colleagues with insufficient security classifications, or with institutions abroad.

Staff say PHAC officials told them a week ago not to speak with Qiu or with media.

Qiu could not be reached for comment last Friday, nor Monday.

The Winnipeg lab is one of the few in the world with the capacity to handle Level 4 diseases such as Ebola, for which a team of virologists — including Qiu — famously developed a vaccine.

The news comes as Canada’s relationship with China is at what that country’s ambassador has deemed "rock bottom," over the December arrest of a Huawei executive in Vancouver, and a blockade of Canadian canola and pork.

CBC reported Sunday PHAC cancelled security badges for Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng and a group of students from China, and that officials replaced Qiu’s computer overnight. This newspaper could not confirm those details.

PHAC would only say public safety isn’t at risk, and that no one as of Monday had been criminally charged or placed under house arrest.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor is "aware that there is an administrative investigation at the National Microbiology Laboratory," her spokesman Mathieu Filion wrote, adding the lab is continuing its regular work.

The lack of information hasn’t stopped a rumour mill around the Arlington Street lab.

Whispers of an Asian woman being escorted out of the building led to scientists who appeared to have Chinese names getting calls from media.

The University of Manitoba was among 15 of Canada’s top research schools briefed last October by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, over the risk of intellectual-property theft by China.

U of M vice-president Digvir Jayas was not available Monday for an interview.

In 2009, American border guards arrested former NML researcher Konan Michel Yao for attempting to bring over genetic material used to research Ebola; Yao said he was trying to avoid the lengthy process to reproducing samples in his new job.

In May 2018, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette presented Qiu and her colleague Gary Kobinger with an innovation award at Rideau Hall, as the two scientists who led the team that created the Ebola vaccine ZMapp.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca