Sunday, February 7, 2021

Diane Francis: Canadians deserve answers about botched vaccine roll-out


Diane Francis: Canadians deserve answers about botched vaccine roll-out

How much taxpayer money has been squandered on this failed vaccine deal with China?

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The more we learn about Canada’s vaccine roll-out, the more it becomes clear that a public inquiry into the Liberal government’s botched handling of the file is needed.

Last week, I wrote about a rumour circulating within the pharmaceutical industry that Canada’s vaccine crisis was caused by a decision on the part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to delay deals with American companies and instead rely on China, an unscrupulous, sworn enemy of Canada.

When Trudeau asked for the vaccine to be delivered so Canada could start testing it, the story goes, Chinese officials demanded that Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who’s being held in Vancouver on an extradition request from the United States, be released first.

Any deal of that nature, if there ever was one, fell apart, and we are now left with a plethora of questions that Canadians deserve answers to.

Attention has been focused on China-based CanSino Biologics, which was founded by Yu Xuefeng, who got his PhD at McGill University and worked for Sanofi Pharmaceuticals in Toronto before returning to China to launch a vaccine company. He obtained an agreement with the National Research Council to use a Canadian-created cell line to develop a vaccine for Ebola and then SARS-CoV-2.

The coronavirus vaccine was to be tested at Dalhousie University in late May. But the test shipments were never sent. CanSino blamed Chinese customs for refusing to ship the vaccine to Canada for testing, but China has permitted other vaccine candidates to be shipped to other countries for testing, wrote Radio Canada International journalist Mark Montgomery in August.


“In June, the vaccine (based on the Canadian cell line) was approved for use by Chinese military forces,” he added. “As for the rights to the cell-line, a comment to Global News from Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains was ‘The NRC (National Research Council) retains the intellectual property related to the cell line, while CanSino, in turn, owns all intellectual property rights for the vaccines it develops’.”

So Canada owns the intellectual property and the Chinese own the vaccine, which is being used by the Chinese military and being tested in Pakistan and several other countries. Of this, Montgomery reported that the time-sensitive agreement signed by Ottawa means “Canada cannot claim any revenue if the vaccine proves successful.”

In October, science writer Iris Kulbatski, in the health-care journal Healthy Debate, wrote: “What exactly motivated Canada to enter into such an unstable partnership in the first place given the dire state of Canada-China relations and the scandalous history of China’s vaccine industry.”

She added that Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, the former assistant deputy minister overseeing Canada’s vaccine collaborations with China, recently said that China had a history of creating customs obstacles as leverage in trade disagreements.

“McCuaig-Johnston further said that ‘China’s success in vaccines is standing on the back of Canadian researchers and scientists. Over the years we helped China develop its capacity. But China is no longer a reliable partner,’” wrote Kulbatski.

China’s success in vaccines is standing on the back of Canadian researchers and scientists


So what’s the story? Did China try to use its leverage to get Meng out of jail, or did Ottawa just make a bad deal?

Here are questions Canadians deserve answers to: How much taxpayer money has been squandered on this failed deal? Did China demand Meng’s release in return for letting vaccines go to Canada? Why would the Liberals allow intellectual property to go to China without ensuring there was an iron-clad revenue-sharing agreement in place? Is this why former industry minister Navdeep Bains resigned and why François-Philippe Champagne was demoted to take his place?

Other issues that should be addressed include the lack of transparency surrounding Canada’s Vaccine Task Force, which operated secretly for months and is riddled with conflicts.

Canadians are hopping mad about vaccine shortages because lives are at stake. They deserve answers.

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