Health agency chief in “extraordinary situation” after opposition motion condemns him to contempt of Parliament – .

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Health agency chief in “extraordinary situation” after opposition motion condemns him to contempt of Parliament – .


Extremely rare reprimand comes after PHAC for weeks refused to provide documents that could explain why two scientists were fired from a high-security lab

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OTTAWA – After his department was found in contempt of Parliament for failing to provide top-secret documents to a special House committee, the head of Canada’s federal health agency said he now found himself in an “extraordinary situation” unlike any he had seen in his nearly 30-year career.

Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, did not say if he intended to accede to a parliamentary request to appear before the House of Commons on Monday to receive a “warning” from the Speaker .

The extremely rare reprimand, requested as part of an opposition motion, comes after PHAC for weeks refused to provide documents to a parliamentary committee that could explain why two scientists were fired from Canada’s lab. higher safety infectious diseases earlier this year.

Stewart and other federal officials say providing such uncensored information could violate security law, including the Privacy Act. This in turn put the longtime official in a particularly difficult position, he said, balancing concerns between defending national security and satisfying the will of parliament.

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“I am the person who signs the package or provides the documents and therefore I find myself in this extraordinary situation in this 27th year of my career,” Stewart told the House of Commons health committee on Friday.

“It is not the exercise of my choice that puts me here. These are the obligations of my job, and making the representations of my organization, guided by the advice that was provided by the experts.

His testimony comes amid increased focus on the operations of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, the only level 4 infectious disease security facility in Canada, equipped to handle some of the world’s deadliest pathogens. .

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Two scientists – Dr Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng – were fired from the NML in January for undisclosed reasons in an RCMP investigation. At the same time, foreign affairs and former intelligence experts have raised concerns about collaborations between the Winnipeg lab and Chinese researchers, including at least one researcher linked to the People’s Liberation Army ( APL) from China.

The public health agency provided documents to a special House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations that detailed the lab’s operations, but with editorial staff. Earlier this week, Speaker of the House Anthony Rota ruled that the government’s refusal to provide uncensored documents amounted to a challenge to the will of Parliament.

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Stewart said on Friday he made the decision to withhold documents on the advice of Department of Justice officials. He said he had not spoken to anyone in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office about the matter.

“I have not had any conversations with anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office about this. And I had no discussions with my minister’s office regarding the intention to comply on Monday.

He said his department’s ruling in contempt of Parliament did not exempt him from the need to comply with the Privacy Act and other laws, saying “that was the challenge. in this file “.

Opposition members on the health committee blasted Stewart for withholding the documents, citing earlier rulings which concluded that Parliament’s right to demand documents “prevails over statutory obligations.”

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Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner accused Stewart of making a decision about providing documents that did not belong to her.

“Do you know that Parliament is supreme and that your opinion is irrelevant in this regard? ” she asked.

NDP MP Don Davies dismissed claims that the provision of documents would have an impact on national security, given the safeguards the committee had in place to protect sensitive information. Members of the Canada-China committee would review the documents in private, and any necessary deletions would still be made by the House lawyer, he said.

“These documents will be redacted for national security – but not by you, by the coroner. “

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