Tories boycotts security committee over documents of fired scientists

OTTAWA – Erin O’Toole refused to appoint Conservative Party members to MPs’ intelligence and national security committees.

The Conservative leader withdrew his party’s MPs from the committee last spring in protest over the Liberal government’s refusal to hand over unverified documents related to the sacking of two scientists. from Canada’s highest security laboratory.

In a December 17 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, O’Toole said that the boycott of the Conservative party’s all-party national security committee, known as NSICOP, would continue in the new session. of Congress until the end of such documents.

Opposition parties joined together last spring to ask the Public Health Agency of Canada to hand over documents to a now-defunct special committee on Canada-China relations.

Instead, the Liberal government gave them to NSICOP, arguing that it was the more appropriate body to review sensitive material that could jeopardize national security.

That committee, set up in 2017 specifically to consider sensitive issues, submits classified reports to the prime minister, which are then presented in Parliament in an edited form. Its members are subject to top security clearance and are bound to maintain secrecy.

At the time, Speaker of the House Anthony Rota ruled that NSICOP was not a Parliamentary committee and was therefore not an acceptable alternative to having a Commons committee. check the documents.

In his letter, O’Toole said that NSCOP “has become a committee of the Prime Minister’s Office” and is being used by Trudeau’s government “to avoid accountability and that is undermining its credibility. .”

He said changes were needed to the legislation creating the commission to set it up as a permanent Commons committee that reports to Parliament, not the prime minister.

“Until the requested documents are sent to the law clerk, as previously requested, and until you agree to a nonpartisan effort to effect statutory change,” O’Toole said. to NSCOP’s governing law, Conservatives will not participate in NSICOP”.

He suggested that NSICOP was not appropriate to delve into the firing of the two scientists because by law, NSICOP is prohibited from accessing any information related to the ongoing police investigation. The PHAC said the issue was related to a “potential breach of security protocols” and was being investigated by police.

O’Toole further accused the government of continuing “in defiance of the will of Parliament, which has ordered the release of documents four times” from the PHAC.

However, Rota ruled that those orders lapsed when Congress was dissolved in August to hold an election, ending all business before the House of Commons.

In June, the government filed a petition in Federal Court to ban the release of the documents on the grounds that the disclosure would “harm international relations or national defense or security.”

It was dropped after the election was conducted because the House of Commons order to produce documents was no longer in effect.

During the new parliamentary session after the election, House of Commons government leader Mark Holland said the Liberals still believe NSCOP is the right body to examine the documents.

However, he proposed a compromise: the creation of a special committee open to all parties, with clear security to review unanswered documents, with the support of an independent panel. made up of three former judges, who will determine what and how documents can be released to the public without endangering national security.

The Conservatives have rejected that proposal, while the NDP and the Quebecois Bloc have yet to respond definitively.

O’Toole’s letter shows the Conservatives are complying with opposition parties’ initial demands that all unprocessed documents be turned over to parliament’s law clerk, who examined them for approval. protect national security, although MPs in the Canada-China committee reserve the right. publicly release any redacted material they choose.

The Canada-China committee, created by order of a Conservative Party motion in the last parliamentary session, no longer exists so it is unclear which committee the Conservatives believe should be in charge of the documents. present.

Opposition parties believe the documents they have requested will shed light on why scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory on July 2019 and then fired last January.

They also want to see documents related to the transfer of the deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.

Former PHAC chairman Iain Stewart has assured MPs that the transfer has nothing to do with subsequent lawsuits by Qiu and her husband and has no connection to COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan province of China.

Opposition parties continue to suspect a link despite those assurances.

Last June, Stewart became the first non-politician in more than a century to be kicked out of the House bar to be reprimanded for refusing to hand over documents. He was appointed president of Canada’s National Research Council in October.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 21, 2021.


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