Opposition MPs joined forces and outvoted the Liberals Wednesday on a motion demanding the Trudeau government come clean on why two Chinese scientists were fired from Canada’s highest security infectious-disease laboratory.
In a 179-149 vote, the Bloc Quebecois, NDP, and the Green Party supported a Conservative motion calling on the Liberals to produce unredacted documents concerning the firing of the two federal scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg and the transfer of deadly viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.
The motion, which came about due to the government’s continual refusal to provide the information to MPs, stipulates the documents must be provided within 48 hours of the adoption of the motion.
Submitted by Conservative Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Chong on Tuesday, the motion calls on the House of Commons to release unredacted documents related to “the transfer of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019, and the subsequent revocation of security clearances for, and termination of the employment of, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and Dr. Keding Cheng.”
The passing of the motion also means that Health Minister Patty Hajdu will be summoned to testify before the Commons Committee on Canada-China (CACN) within two weeks. Hajdu refused to answer Chong’s questions concerning the issue when she was asked in the House on May 25.
The motion would also have the House law clerk take part in an in-camera meeting with CACN to discuss what information could “reasonably be expected to compromise national security or reveal details of an ongoing criminal investigation” so that the committee can decide what information can be made public.
In the House on Tuesday, Chong said the committee had ordered Public Health Agency of Canada to submit the unredacted documents on March 31 and May 10, but the agency failed to do so, saying it would breach the Privacy Act.
Qiu, Cheng, and several Chinese students were stripped of their security access and escorted out of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg amid a police investigation in 2019. Qiu, who was responsible for sending 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.
When grilled by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in the House Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several Liberal MPs argued that the issues of national security should be reviewed by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) instead.
NSICOP was created by Bill C-22, which was introduced by the Liberal government in 2016 and received royal assent in 2017, with the aim of aligning with Canada’s Five Eyes allies by creating “an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities.”
Chong, however, said the NSICOP shouldn’t intervene as the “government should not be investigating itself.”
“While NSICOP is made up of parliamentarians, unlike the United Kingdom’s intelligence and security committee, it is not a committee of Parliament. It is not a committee of this place,” Chong said.
He added that NSICOP members are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the prime minister, including the chair, which means the government has the authority to terminate the committee’s reviews or be allowed to withhold information from them. In addition, the prime minister has the power to review and demand revisions to the committee’s reports before they are made public.
“In short, NSICOP is accountable to the government. Under our constitution, the government is accountable to this House. It is to this House that the government should deliver the documents,” he argued.
On the issue of whether parliamentary committees have constitutional authority to subpoena documents, Christian Roy, lawyer from the Justice Department, told CACN on May 10 that his department does not recognize the power of committees to compel documents in violation of the Privacy Act or other laws.
However, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, NDP MP Jack Harris, and Bloc MP Stephane Bergeron noted a 2010 ruling by former House speaker Peter Milliken that MPs had the right to seek uncensored documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees from the Harper government.
“I think we have made it very clear that, under the committee’s jurisdiction and under the powers that are granted to it by the constitution, our rulings of Speaker Milliken and the privileges of Parliament, this is within our purview as members of Parliament to carry out this function,” Harris said.