The federal government has refused to comply with an order the House passed last week that demands the release of all unredacted documents regarding the firing of two Chinese scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg to the Commons Committee on Canada-China (CACN), instead sending the documents to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP).
At a hearing before the CACN on Monday evening, Conservative MP John Williamson grilled Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau on why the government decided to “ignore an order from Parliament to produce the documents,” which required the government to provide them to the committee within 48 hours.
“We have a responsibility as a government to ensure that we don’t jeopardize certain information that touches on privacy, that touches on commercial privacy, and that also touches on possible security implications,” Garneau said in response.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told the House earlier Monday that she had sent unredacted copies to the NSICOP for review instead of the CACN, because it’s “the appropriate level of security.”
Conservatives called the move a “contempt of Parliament.”
“This is not a game. It is about the fundamental and ancient powers of the House of Commons to act as the grand inquest of the nation. This is being openly defied, dismissed and mocked by the Liberal government. It is, in a word, treating the House with contempt,” Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell said in the House on Monday.
Conservative Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Chong last week criticized the prime minister for saying the NSICOP is the right place to review the breaches of national security at the laboratory, saying the committee answers to the government, not the other way around, according to what’s written in the Act.
“When the gov’t fails to uphold national security, it must be held accountable. The gov’t is accountable to the House of Commons. That’s why these breaches must be investigated by the House, not NSICOP,” Chong wrote in a Twitter thread on June 1.
The House order on June 2 came after the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on two prior occasions failed to produce unredacted documents concerning the firing of the two federal scientists from NML and the transfer of deadly viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.
The scientists, Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng, and several Chinese students were stripped of their security access and escorted out of NML in July 2019 amid an RCMP investigation. Qiu, who sent the samples of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to China, had travelled several times in official capacity to the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, which is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. She had also trained scientists and technicians there to level 4 standard that allows them to handle the world’s deadliest viruses and pathogens.
The redacted version of the documents (pdf) were made public on Tuesday, coming after the CACN voted in favour of a motion that calls for its release on Monday night. The motion states it will continue to insist that the PHAC fully comply with the committee’s orders to produce the unredacted documents.