Tensions erupt as senior federal health official berates House for failing to hand over documents – .

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Tensions erupt as senior federal health official berates House for failing to hand over documents – .


OTTAWA – The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was publicly reprimanded in the House of Commons on Monday for failing to hand over unreacted documents demanded by MPs regarding the firing of two scientists from the laboratory of the highest security in Canada.

In an extraordinarily rare procedural move, PHAC President Iain Stewart was escorted to the bar of the House of Commons where he was reprimanded by House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, which sparked a series of tense exchanges between the government and the opposition.

Her warning came after PHAC refused to provide further documents with more details on why scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were removed from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg in July. 2019, then later fired by the agency.

Opposition parties joined forces last week to pass a Conservative-led motion declaring the federal government and PHAC in contempt of Parliament. As part of the motion, Stewart was ordered to bring the documents with him at his reprimand, but he showed up empty-handed on Monday.

His decision to appear but not comply with Parliament’s other request sparked a furious series of exchanges between Liberal and opposition MPs who were in the House to watch the public reprimand unfold. Rota must have intervened and demanded order.

Throughout the procedure, Stewart remained silent with his hands clasped and holding his blue surgical mask, which he removed when he entered the West Block of the House of Commons. Sometimes he would check his phone and after about 30 minutes MPs unanimously agreed to fire him.

After his departure, the procedural wrangling continued. The Conservatives argued that Stewart showing up without the documents was another breach of parliamentary privilege, while the Liberals balked at what they saw as a shameful display of disrespect for a public servant.

“This government, Mr. Speaker, is looking back on 18 decades of parliamentary evolution, now challenging four orders of this House and its committee,” said Conservative MP Michael Chong.

The requested material was also believed to contain details that the firing of the scientists is linked to the fact that four months before their security clearances were revoked, Qiu sent a shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Institute of Virology in Wuhan in March 2019, the same laboratory that is at the center of a new probe launched by the United States to determine the origins of the COVID-19 virus.

While Stewart did not speak on Monday, his office presented a letter explaining why he was unable to share the requested information. As he told the House Health Committee on Friday, he is obligated to abide by legal and confidentiality restrictions as the situation is under RCMP investigation.

“I am a career public servant and, as a career public servant, I am bound by the law,” Stewart told the committee.

Stopped by reporters as he exited the building on Monday, Stewart made no comment on the warning.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who oversees PHAC, was not physically present in the House for the warning, but in earlier statements during Question Period she said it was “disappointing” to seeing the Conservatives “playing games” on national security issues.

She also noted that unredacted documents were provided to the top-secret Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence, from which the Conservatives withdrew their members in protest last week.

“Unredacted documents have been provided to the appropriate committee of parliamentarians who have the expertise and authority to review sensitive documents of this nature. We will never endanger the national security of Canadians, ”Hajdu said.

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