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Chaos in Parliament: Five Tweets on the NDP’s last-minute motion on the Israel-Hamas conflict

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Yesterday, with the Israel-Hamas conflict entering its sixth month, the federal NDP put forward a controversial non-binding motion urging the Canadian government to officially recognize “the State of Palestine,” setting in motion a two-state solution. 

After much scrambling at the 11th hour, the NDP and Liberals amended the motion to say it would instead ask the government to work “towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution, and maintain Canada’s position that Israel has a right to exist in peace and security with its neighbours.” Among many other tweaks, the new motion no longer bans “extremist settlers from Canada” or imposes sanctions on Israeli officials “who incite genocide.” It also mentions that Hamas is a “listed terrorist organization in Canada” that “must lay down its arms” and removes the word “occupation.”

The new motion passed by 86 votes; 204 to 117. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and almost all Liberal MPs voted in favour, alongside NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and Green MPs. Leader of the Official Opposition Pierre Poilievre and his Conservative Party voted against the proposal.

“This was tabled after the entire debate had concluded,” said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather. “How can you have such a substantive amendment that nobody has the chance to see or debate at all? It offends my privileges.”

The original motion called for actions (much of which were maintained) that included the “demand [of] an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages;” the suspension of military trade with Israel; a push to “immediately reinstate [UNWRA] funding,” and support for an independent investigation into allegations of UNWRA workers taking part in the October 7th attacks; the lifting the “arbitrary cap” of 1,000 temporary resident visa applications to Palestinians in Gaza; and to have the government ban “extremist [Israeli] settlers from Canada” and “impose sanctions on Israeli officials who incite genocide, and maintain sanctions on Hamas leaders.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson, who led the initial proposal, insisted it was written “in a way that it’s not supposed to be a ‘gotcha’ motion.” The MPP added that the motion “aligned with international law, [and] aligns with Canadian policy.” 

Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed immediately denounced that motion, saying the “one-sided recognition of a Palestinian state rewards Hamas—a listed terrorist organization by the Government of Canada—for its sadistic attack on October 7th which was perpetrated with the intention of annihilating the State of Israel.” He further commented that “[e]mpowering terrorists will only evoke more bloodshed and jeopardize any peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

Since the motion was placed on notice late last month, Canada has taken the controversial decision of resuming UNRWA funding.

If Canada was to recognize Palestine as a state it would be the first G7 country to do so. While other G7 countries including the U.S. and France may be leaning towards this position, they have not made any formal announcements.

Among the UN’s 193 member states, 139 have recognized Palestine, including nearly every country in South and Central America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The initial motion caused major divides in the Liberal cabinet, caucus, the House of Commons, and also among the members of the public. 

Here are five tweets reacting to the motions.

The House of Commons X account broadcast the final result to Canadians.

Anthony Koch, former spokesman for Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, noted how frantic the vote ended up being.

Other critics called it a “back of the napkin” approach to foreign policy that would disappoint allies who were watching the procedures. 

Journalist and author John Ivison commented on the chaos.

Meanwhile, others, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims insisted it was actually a major step in the right direction that would lead to real change.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh insisted his party had much to celebrate, even if the motion was non-binding.

Since October 2023, more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Independent statistical analysis, however, casts major doubt on the validity of these numbers. Meanwhile, around 100 people are still being held hostage by Hamas terrorists.

‘One of the most serious national security breaches in Canadian history’: Margaret McCuaig-Johnston on China’s Winnipeg lab infiltration

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After years of the federal government blocking the disclosure of evidence, late last month, intelligence records revealed that two respected microbiology researchers, Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng, were secretly gathering information and virus samples from Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab, Canada’s highest security infectious disease lab, and sharing them with Chinese state and military institutions. The couple’s whereabouts are unknown. While the RCMP previously opened a criminal investigation, no charges have been laid.

The Hub’s managing editor Harrison Lowman reached out to Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, board director at the China Strategic Risks Institute, to discuss. McCuaig-Johnston spent nearly 40 years in the public service, including as the executive vice president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and sat on the Canada-China Joint Committee on Science and Technology. She also served as an assistant deputy minister who oversaw three federal government labs and can speak basic Mandarin.

HARRISON LOWMAN: I’ve seen a couple of people now describe this as “the most serious national security breach in Canadian history.” Is that a fair characterization or an exaggeration?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: It’s really horrific. I would say it’s one of the most serious national security breaches in Canadian history. Other national security breaches, we probably wouldn’t hear about, right? Because that would have been kept quiet. And the government tried to keep this one quiet. And has been seen to have been using a fig leaf of national security to cover what the opposition parties are calling the embarrassment of the department.

HARRISON LOWMAN: What were some of the more egregious actions of the two scientists?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: In one case, material came from China to Canada to the Winnipeg lab, labeled “kitchen utensils” and it was actually dead mouse proteins. Without the knowledge of senior people in the lab, they were also sending [deadly] Ebola virus and Henipah virus via an Air Canada flight to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Winnipeg lab had never sent anything like that to China before. So, this was not normal business.

They were also allowing Chinese military People’s Liberation Army (PLA) scientists to come into the Winnipeg lab unescorted. They were also allowing Chinese students to come in. Both were allowed to take materials out. So they were carrying things back to China with them.

One of the things that disturbs me about what happened here is you can see in universities that people who have arrived from China in the last eight or 10 years, they’ve been inculcated with [Chinese President] Xi Jinping thought. And their allegiance is still to the “motherland,” even though they enjoy all the rights and privileges of living in Canada.

But Dr. Qiu and her husband had been here since the 90s. So at least 25 years. It’s surprising to see that they so readily fell for the line of “help the motherland.” That’s always what China does. The fact that they were able to get to people who were really long-time Canadians, that’s disturbing.

HARRISON LOWMAN: Is it fair to say they were recruited as quote-unquote “spies”? Is that the right terminology here?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: They would certainly not think of themselves as spies. I’m not sure I would call them spies because our system in our lab essentially gave them what they got. It’s our lax system. We weren’t prepared for this.

HARRISON LOWMAN: How were they not charged and detained immediately upon being questioned?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: Well I think that’s why they haven’t come back to Canada. They went to China. And the reporting is that no one knows where they are now. I saw something where they were in northeast China, mentoring other scientists at a provincial lab.

HARRISON LOWMAN: Where does this lab infiltration fit within China’s larger espionage playbook?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: It’s an important lesson, I think, for government labs, in general. China was trying some new things in this case. Trying to get us to share intellectual property and materials. So they’ve gone beyond here, what they normally would do. Normally they take this approach in university labs. University professors have had lots of briefings now on the risks of partnering, for example, with the Chinese military, and just what to watch for, and how to protect their intellectual property.

Departmental labs weren’t seen to be as susceptible because they were within the government of Canada. Who would think the Chinese government would try to get right into the government of Canada?

Pierre Poilievre holds recently released documents about the two scientists who were fired from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, as he speaks in Ottawa, on Feb. 29, 2024. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.

HARRISON LOWMAN: Part of the Winnipeg lab studied the world’s most lethal microbes, including ones that could be used for biological warfare. What did you make of the fact they had access to that?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: This is something I’ve been briefing the Canadian government on for many years. When I left the government in 2012, I decided to do some academic work at the University of Ottawa on China’s education system. I started seeing this focus on the integration of military and civilian technology development; where Chinese military scientists would work hand in hand with civilian scientists to advance PLA military objectives. And those military objectives now are using very sensitive technologies like photonics [the physical science of light waves], which Canada is very strong in, and AI.

But what is unique about China is that they’re also using brain research and other medical research to advance a tactic of military engagement called “winning without fighting.” And if you can imagine being able to weaponize the Ebola virus, so that so that they can say to Taiwan, “We now have Ebola as a weapon. And we’re going to set it loose in Taipei unless you shut down all of your defences and allow Chinese mainland military PLA into Taiwan.” Well, now they have Ebola from Canada. You can thank Canada for that if that happens.

[Editor’s note: Minister of Health Mark Holland insists that at “no time did national secrets or information that threatened the security of Canada leave the lab.”]

HARRISON LOWMAN: What would you say to people who say that’s sensationalizing things?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: Those people should read PLA documents that show this is exactly what they’re doing. There’s an American researcher, Elsa Kania, who has very close engagement with the PLA military. She’s a member of the U.S. military. And she’s written about how they’re using medical research for winning without fighting.

HARRISON LOWMAN: So, we now have the foreign interference inquiry going on. We have the Liberals and NDP blocking a proposed examination of national security breaches at the lab. So, what do you think should happen next?

MARGARET MCCUAIG-JOHNSTON: If I were still in the government, as part of the group of assistant deputy ministers who manage government labs, I would immediately put on a review. I wouldn’t wait for ministers to ask me to do it. I would do a review across government labs, of their collaborations with China and of their protocols for intellectual property protection, and for the transfer of materials. That’s something that the bureaucracy can and should do.

I’d be surprised if it hasn’t started already.

One of the things I’ve recommended is that this entire lab, not just the section that these scientists were working in—the highly sensitive disease materials—but the entire lab should have zero collaboration with China for the next 10 years.

The government went to great lengths to cover this up. That’s very true. But I don’t see the initial fault of this as being with the politicians. This is on the bureaucracy and its lack of rigour in its own procedures and checks and double checks.

…I promoted a lot of collaboration with China over the years. In the past. As we [Canada] were helping them develop their capacity. They came from zero after the Cultural Revolution. Their universities had been closed for almost 10 years. They’ve really advanced. But they’ve advanced on the shoulders of Canadian scientists.

We’ve done a lot to help them, they know that. But now, with the very aggressive strategies and tactics that Xi Jinping and the people around him are using to acquire technology abroad, we have to be much more vigilant about our own systems, to protect our own things. In our business relations, we have to be tougher negotiators. In our science relations, we have to be much more astute so as to not give away all our IP for nothing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.