Conservatives threaten to boycott Trudeau-created intelligence agency over concerns over Winnipeg lab breach – .

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Conservatives threaten to boycott Trudeau-created intelligence agency over concerns over Winnipeg lab breach – .


“The Prime Minister can change the report. So it’s not independent, it’s actually just an instrument of the Prime Minister, not of Parliament ‘

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OTTAWA – The Tories threatened Thursday to boycott a key intelligence watchdog, marking a sharp escalation in political pressure over the government’s withholding of documents that could explain why two scientists were fired from a high-security lab on infectious diseases earlier this year.

The rise comes as opposition members also voted Thursday to find the Public Health Agency of Canada in contempt of Parliament for refusing to provide top secret details surrounding the case.

For weeks, opposition MPs have remained in a parliamentary stalemate with the Liberal government as they attempt to obtain hundreds of pages of documents related to the operations of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, including collaborations with Chinese military researchers have sounded the alarm bells in the Canadian intelligence community. Two scientists – Dr Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng – were fired from the NML in January for undisclosed reasons in an RCMP investigation.

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The Public Health Agency of Canada, which oversees the facility, has repeatedly said filing such sensitive information would constitute a threat to national security and could potentially interfere with an ongoing police investigation. Liberal ministers made similar statements and instead referred the documents to the Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence (NSICOP), an organization created by Justin Trudeau that oversees Ottawa’s intelligence services.

In a letter to the Prime Minister on Thursday, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said her party would no longer participate in NSICOP, saying such a move “would only legitimize your unethical conduct.” Trudeau’s recent appointments to the committee, O’Toole said in the letter, “are now suspect and erode confidence in this committee.”

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Separately, Conservative, NDP, and Bloc MPs outscored Liberals 176-150 on the Contempt of Parliament motion, which calls for PHAC President Iain Stewart to appear before the House of Commons bar on Monday to be reprimanded for withholding information.

Adding to that claim, Speaker of the House Anthony Rota ruled on Wednesday that the government’s refusal to table information before the committee was a challenge to Parliament, undermining its unlimited power to order documents.

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Yet some observers say Rota’s decision sets a potentially dangerous precedent, in which Canadian officials unknowingly disclose highly sensitive information gathered by allies.

Many experts say concerns about NML operations, including potential collaborations with Chinese state actors, likely have come from the United States or other allied intelligence agencies, who would not appreciate such information being discussed. openly in the Canadian Parliament.

“I am deeply concerned that this decision undermines NSICOP,” said Stephanie Carvin, professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. “It’s kind of a bulldozer movement. “

Conservative MPs, for their part, say parliamentary committees are properly equipped to deal with sensitive information and would review documents in private under the supervision of the House Law Clerk. Meanwhile, the prime minister controls the NSICOP and can manipulate any of its findings, opposition members say.

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“These members can be removed by the Prime Minister,” Conservative MP John Williamson told committee earlier this week. “The Prime Minister can change the report. So it’s not independent, it’s actually just an instrument of the Prime Minister, not of Parliament. “

The Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory where scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng worked until they were escorted in July 2019, and finally fired in January 2021.
The Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory where scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng worked until they were escorted in July 2019, and finally fired in January 2021. Photo by Michel Comte / AFP via Getty Images / File

Carvin said it’s technically true that Trudeau’s office could amend any final report on the matter. But NSICOP members, including members of the opposition, could easily raise widespread concerns about the changes introduced by the prime minister’s office, she said, in order to alert the public to these changes.

“The fact that we are a net consumer of information means that we have to be extremely careful in how we handle this material,” she said. “There does not appear to be any reflection on any of these issues in this request for information. “

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The NSICOP was formed in 2018 for the purpose of overseeing intelligence services in Canada and operates as a branch of the executive rather than Parliament. The 10-member committee is made up of seven deputies and three senators from all major parties, each appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Most experts broadly agree that the Winnipeg lab breach is evidence of an overly relaxed attitude in Canada towards the Chinese government’s efforts to secure foreign intellectual property, whether in the area of biological or technological research.

The Chinese Communist Party is known to infiltrate foreign powers through a variety of avenues, including its Thousands of Talent Program where it recruits top scientists and engineers from overseas.

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US authorities have arrested several researchers linked to Thousand Talents, accusing the program of having been used to steal sensitive intellectual property used by the Chinese government and military.

Seven scientists from the NML conducted experiments and co-authored studies on infectious diseases alongside Chinese military researchers, as was first reported by the Globe and Mail last month. Feihu Yan, from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Medical Sciences, worked at the Winnipeg lab for a time and was sometimes on the institution’s membership list.

Canadian academics in particular have signed countless research agreements with Chinese researchers, often with significant funding agreements.

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“The culture of research seems to have taken precedence over the culture of national security,” said Christian Leuprecht, professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.

The NML is the only Level 4 safety laboratory in Canada, equipped to handle some of the world’s deadliest pathogens.

“There are only a limited number of these labs in the Western world, let alone among the Five Eyes,” Leuprecht said. “So if you’re trying to infiltrate one, you’re going to try to pick the weakest link. And so again, it turns out that Canada was the weakest link. “

In 2019, the facility transferred the Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan, just months before the two scientists were escorted out of the Winnipeg laboratory by Canadian authorities.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu, in committee testimony earlier this week, said there was “no connection” between the shipping of the viruses and the firing of scientists.

Foreign Minister Marc Garneau also rejected calls for documents, telling the Canada-China committee earlier last week that sending the top-secret documents to NSICOP amounted to “a rather elegant solution.”

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