The federal Liberals will move ahead on a special, all-party, security-cleared committee to review documents related to the firing of two scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg—even if the Conservatives continue to reject their plan.
Government House leader Mark Holland said Wednesday the NDP has agreed to the idea, and he hopes the Tories and Bloc Québécois will also participate.
Members of the ad-hoc committee will be able to see unredacted documents, but an independent panel of three former judges, to be jointly chosen by the parties, will have the final say on what material can be made public without jeopardizing national security.
But the Conservatives rejected the proposal last December, preferring the documents be turned over to a regular committee of MPs who would decide what material would be released to Canadians, in an attempt to hold the Liberal government accountable.
The motion demanded the documents be submitted to the parliamentary law clerk within 48 hours upon adoption, and that members of the now-defunct Special Committee on Canada-China Relations retain the right to release whatever material they chose.
The government refused to obey the order. Instead, former health minister Patty Hajdu told the House on June 8, 2021, that she had sent the records to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) as it’s “the appropriate level of security.”
In his letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, O’Toole said NSICOP “has become a committee of the Prime Minister’s Office” and has been used by the Trudeau government “to avoid accountability and that is diminishing its credibility.”
“Until the requested documents are deposited with the law clerk, as previously ordered, and until you agree to a non-partisan effort to make statutory change to NSICOP’s governing legislation, Conservatives will not participate in NSICOP,” he said.
Chong seconded O’Toole’s opinion as he had previously said that members of NSICOP serve at the pleasure of the prime minister, meaning the prime minister has the power to review and demand revisions of any documents before they are made public.
“Nothing in the [NSICOP] act affects or limits the privileges of the House to order the production of documents, even those with national security implications,” Rota said. “It is for the House and not for the government to decide how such documents are to be reviewed and what safeguards are to put in place, if any.”
In a January letter, Holland again urged the Conservatives to reconsider his compromised proposal. He said Wednesday that the government’s planned all−party committee respects the Conservative desire to be able to see the full documents and to contest any redactions.
“If they don’t budge from their position, then I have to question the authenticity of their request,” Holland told The Canadian Press.
“You can’t, on the one hand, say that you want to see documents but then refuse to see them. You can’t say you want to be able to challenge redactions, but refuse to participate in a process that would challenge redactions.”
Holland said the government wants the planned committee to begin its work “as rapidly as possible.”
Given that the Liberals and NDP account for a majority of members of the House of Commons, it would be “appropriate for us to proceed” without the other two parties, he said.
Chong responded late Wednesday that the Tories would not join the committee. He accused the Liberals of bypassing Parliament with the support of the NDP.
“It’s clear the Liberals are panicking and covering something up by creating this non−parliamentary committee,” he told The Canadian Press. “We are going to continue our efforts to get these documents in a parliamentary committee."
The Bloc had no immediate comment.