Trying to ‘Cover Up’: Chong on Feds’ Refusal to Send Unredacted Records on Fired Scientists, Virus Transfer

Trying to ‘Cover Up’: Chong on Feds’ Refusal to Send Unredacted Records on Fired Scientists, Virus Transfer
Conservative MP Michael Chong rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Nov. 19, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

Conservative MP Michael Chong said that the federal government is trying to cover up the firing of two Chinese scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, research collaboration with the Chinese military, and the transfer of deadly viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

“I think they’re worried. I think they realize that they have been caught failing to protect national security, failing to protect the safety and security of Canadians,” Chong told Epoch Times’ sister media NTD on June 14.

The Liberal government has refused to submit the unredacted documents related to the matter even though it was defeated by opposition MPs in a 179-149 vote on June 2, that demanded it to send the copies to the House of Commons law clerk within 48 hours upon adoption of the motion.

Instead, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told the House on June 8 that she had sent the records to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) as it’s “the appropriate level of security.”

House Speaker Anthony Rota, in response, ruled Wednesday that the Liberal government has breached parliamentary privileges for failing to submit the requested unredacted records to the House, adding that the government cannot bypass the order of parliamentarians “even those with national security implications.”

“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,” Rota said, while at the same time stressing “there is thus no reason to allow an additional delay.”

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota rises in the chamber as he delivers a statement in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Canada, on July 22, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota rises in the chamber as he delivers a statement in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Canada, on July 22, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In addition, Rota agreed with opposition parties’ argument that NSICOP is not a committee of Parliament. Chong has 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.

In Parliament last week, Chong said the government has been using delay and obfuscation tactics to obstruct the Commons Committee on Canada-China Relations (CACN) from finding out exactly what happened at the NML and their partnership with China.

“Initially, … the government hid behind the excuse of the Privacy Act and the protection of personal information. Then it shifted its argument and started to make the argument that it wasn’t about the protection of personal information under the Privacy Act, but rather about national security,” Chong said.

He believes such tactics were used as “there is information that it does not want to come to light because it would embarrass the government and demonstrate it was lax in its oversight of national security and policy at the Winnipeg lab.”

The documents in question pertain to the January firing of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, from their positions at the NML. The couple were escorted out of the lab building by the RCMP and stripped of their security clearances in July 2019. In March 2019, Qiu was charged with shipping samples of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to WIV.

Moreover, Qiu had travelled several times to the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, which is part of the WIV, between 2017 and 2018, including one trip to train Chinese scientists and technicians to operate in a level 4 lab, which is the highest bio-safety standard.

During the June 14 interview, Chong said he is also aware of seven federal scientists at the NML who collaborated with Chinese scientists on “some of the world’s most dangerous viruses and pathogens.”

“The scientists co-authored at least six studies from 2016 to 2020. We know that some of the research was paid for by China’s government, and that some of the scientists were part of China’s military,” he said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), citing privacy issues, refused to provide the unredacted documents to the CACN on March 31 and May 10.

However, things took a turn as a majority of MPs voted in favor last week of a privilege motion submitted by Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell on June 16, declaring the PHAC in contempt of Parliament for refusing to provide the documents.

With a vote of 176-150, the adoption of this motion also means the agency’s president Iain Stewart will be summoned to appear before the Commons to be admonished on Monday and release the documents to the House law clerk.

However, Stewart showed no sign he is willing to do so when he testified before the Commons Health Committee Friday, saying he is bound by law to protect national security and privacy laws.

“I find myself in this extraordinary situation in this 27th year of my career. But it’s not the exercise of my choice that’s putting me here, it’s the obligations of my job,” Stewart said.

Chong said he and his colleagues will continue to press on.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions. But slowly we are getting some more information and we'll continue to fight to get even more information to get to the bottom of this matter,” he said.

With reporting by Andrew Chen.