A panel of members of Parliament and judges are going to review documents related to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s highest-security laboratory.
On Wednesday, House of Commons leader Mark Holland revealed the names of MPs and judges who will serve as arbiters on an ad hoc committee tasked to examine both redacted and unredacted documents pertaining to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
The case dates back to 2019, when scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted out of the Winnipeg lab for reasons public health officials described as “relating to possible breaches in security protocols.”
The couple were subsequently fired in January 2021.
The ad hoc committee, proposed by the federal government, will allow MPs to have, in a secure setting, full access to related redacted and unredacted documents, Holland’s office said.
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They will review briefings from officials on why some information was not disclosed. They will also look at documents from the Public Health Agency of Canada regarding the transfer of viruses and the firing of the two scientists.
“Canadians deserve to see MPs working in collaboration on important issues that require a responsible approach to transparency and accountability,” Holland said in a statement.
The committee members from all four recognized parties are Iqra Khalid (Liberal), John Williamson (Conservative), René Villemure (Bloc Québécois) and Heather McPherson (NDP).
The alternatives who can act as a replacement when needed are Taleeb Noormohamad (Liberal), Marty Morantz (Conservative), Christine Normandin (Bloc Québécois) and Don Davies (NDP).
The panel of arbiters will include former Supreme Court justices Ian Binnie and Marshall Rothstein as well as Eleanor Dawson, former judge of the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal.
“Where there is redacted information that the committee believes ought to be made public, the panel of arbiters, composed of three former judges, will determine how that information could be disclosed more widely without compromising national security, national defence or international relations, or any other public or private interest,” Holland’s office said.
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Then-PHAC president Iain Stewart and Patty Hajdu, who was the health minister at the time, have both said the pair’s firing had nothing to do with the fact that Qiu oversaw a shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.
They’ve also said there’s no connection to COVID-19, which first appeared in China’s Wuhan province in late 2019.
Nevertheless, opposition parties have demanded to see unredacted documents about the transfer of viruses to the institute and the subsequent firing of the two scientists.
Opposition MPs have repeatedly asserted the right of the House of Commons and its committees to order the production of any documents they please, while Stewart argued that he was prevented by law from releasing material that could violate privacy or national security laws.
The refusal to hand over documents led the House of Commons to issue its first formal rebuke of a non-MP in nearly 110 years. That came after MPs voted to invoke a rare set of powers to discipline or potentially even imprison people.
Clad in a dark suit, Stewart was brought in by the sergeant-at-arms to stand at the bar of the House of Commons — literally a long brass bar across the green carpet — where he was reprimanded in a rare move.
House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota had called the situation and resulting disputes over authorities an “unprecedented situation.”
— with files from The Canadian Press.
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