Canada supports U.S. probe to investigate COVID-19 origin: Garneau

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says Canada supports the move by U.S. President Joe Biden to order American intelligence agencies to further investigate the origins of COVID-19.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Garneau said because the results of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) report released earlier this year on how the virus first spread to humans was largely inconclusive, a deeper probe is required.

“It is important that we do the science to figure out where it originated from because it may happen again and so therefore we do support President Biden’s announcement earlier this week to investigate more fully,” he said.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced they would join other countries in the global call for China to be more flexible to determine how the outbreak started, not ruling out the possibility it originated at a Chinese laboratory.

Biden asked U.S. intelligence agencies to report back within 90 days, and he told reporters he aimed to release their results publicly. Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific queries for the Chinese government.

WHO and Chinese experts issued a first report in March that laid out four hypotheses about how the pandemic emerged. The joint team said the most likely scenario was that the coronavirus jumped into people from bats via an intermediary animal, and the prospect that it erupted from a laboratory was deemed “extremely unlikely.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was clear at the time to underline that the report was the beginning of the broader investigation, not the end.

Asked what contributions Canada will bring to the probe, Garneau said he couldn’t offer specifics.

“I can’t comment on what Canada’s intelligence organizations are doing but we do welcome the importance of it because again, let me say it, over three million people have died from this. We’ve seen how it’s turned the world upside down in the last 15 months. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to everybody to do the proper science to really figure out where did this originate from,” he said.

Richard Fadden, the former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director and national security adviser to Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper, says it’s unlikely the U.S.-led investigation will yield clearer results without China’s assistance, but nonetheless the move is symbolic.

“I think Biden is signaling that he’s not really interested in making friends with China. China is not going to cooperate, any more than it has in letting us discover what happened. It’s not in its national interest to do so at this point in time and I think its national pride is affected,” he said in an interview with Question Period host Evan Solomon.

Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China, agrees there’s political posturing at play.

“I think that Biden also is signaling to China that in fact, they know more than China would like and [Biden] is maybe giving a chance to China to fess up,” he told Solomon.

With a file from The Associated Press.

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