The Liberals presented a plan to the House of Commons on Dec. 2 designed to end the dispute over the public release of sensitive documents related to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s top biosafety laboratory.
Government House Leader Mark Holland proposed that one member of each party and a designated alternative be assigned to a special committee to review the documents, and three agreed-upon retired judges would then determine what information could be released to the public.
Citing national security and privacy concerns, the Liberals have resisted revealing any details as to why Chinese Canadian virologist Xiangguo Qiu and her biologist husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in 2019 during an RCMP probe and subsequently fired in January 2021.
Holland said the documents contain “information subject to national security that would have been injurious to Canada’s reputation with its international security partners.” The reference to international partners could suggest that some of the information in the documents originated outside of Canada.
Holland described the process MPs would have to follow to view “unredacted versions of the documents while ensuring the ongoing protection of sensitive information.”
“Members of the ad hoc committee would conduct their business within a secure government facility and be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard sensitive and confidential information,” he said in the House.
“This includes procedural, physical and technical security measures and the requirement that members of the committee would undergo the same security screening as members of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians in order to obtain the appropriate security clearance.”
Holland said the “proposed mechanism” is based on the system adopted in 2010 by the Harper government when Canada had troops in Afghanistan that allowed an ad hoc committee of MPs access to records related to the transfer of Afghan detainees from the Canadian Armed Forces to Afghan authorities.
“The proposed model balances two key principles: first, accountability to Parliament by maximizing disclosure and transparency to the greatest extent that is possible; and second, the protection of sensitive and confidential information from disclosure where it would be injurious to our nation,” he said.
The Winnipeg lab case was one of the first issues raised by the opposition when Parliament reconvened last week. Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell raised a point of privilege asking Speaker Anthony Rota to find the government in contempt of Parliament for filing a lawsuit against the Speaker during the previous Parliament to prevent the release of the documents.
Deltell also asked the Speaker to resurrect an order of the House of Commons that required the government to disclose the records. Other opposition parties agreed with the Conservatives.
Holland interrupted Deltell to say that continuing on that point of order would require a motion or committee report, since the issue was raised in the previous Parliament, “and those studies and motions are no longer in effect.”
“If the matter is revived again in this new Parliament by way of a substantive motion, our government believes that with the co-operation of the other members a solution to this impasse can be found,” Holland said when making the proposal.
The Epoch Times contacted the Conservative Party for comment but did not hear back by publication time.
With the permission of NML authorities, Xiangguo Qiu sent samples of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019. Qiu also collaborated with a high-profile Chinese military officer on virus research.
Wuhan was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and the once-dismissed theory that the virus escaped the Wuhan laboratory is now more widely accepted.