Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole seeks intervener status in legal battle over unfettered access to government documents which, if disclosed without redaction, would provide insight into the dismissal of two scientists from Best Lab of infectious diseases in Canada.
An attorney for the leader of the Conservative Party wrote to Federal Court of Canada judge Catherine Kane on Thursday, requesting leave to intervene and discuss the request. Intervenor status would give Mr. O’Toole the ability to present arguments in the case.
Separately, O’Toole promises that if his party wins power in a federal election slated for September, it will release all available government documents on what led to the sacking of scientists, Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Keding. Cheng, of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Why were two scientists fired from a Winnipeg virus lab?
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Where are two scientists fired from Winnipeg virus lab over possible national security concerns shrouded in mystery
For months, opposition parties have been demanding unredacted records from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) explaining why Dr. Qiu and her husband were fired from the Winnipeg lab. The two lost their security clearances in July 2019 and the RCMP were called in to investigate. They were officially fired in January.
In June, after opposition parties teamed up to pass a Commons motion demanding the records, Trudeau’s government took the Speaker of the House of Commons to Federal Court in a bid to prevent their release. , for what the government has called national security reasons. This is the court case in which Mr. O’Toole is now seeking to intervene. Hearings begin in early September.
Mr. O’Toole accused the government of using legal motions to “delay the release of documents that may be somewhat embarrassing” for the Liberals.
“It is totally unacceptable to use the courts in a cover-up and avoid accountability when the House has clearly called on the government to act,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “We have very reasonable questions about the scientists who worked with the Chinese military. “
He said within 100 days of taking office, a Conservative government would release all documents on the matter to the public, with steps taken to protect national security and protect intelligence sources on file. “Canadians have the right to know in an open and transparent democracy, and Parliament is an extension of Canadians,” said Mr. O’Toole.
Justice Minister David Lametti has tried to distance himself from the government’s lawsuit, saying in June that officials have made the decision to take the case to court.
The Globe and Mail reported in May that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had requested the removal of security clearances for the two scientists on national security grounds. The spy agency was concerned about the nature of the information that Dr Qiu might have passed on to the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan.
The Globe also reported that seven scientists from the Special Pathogens Unit at the Winnipeg Laboratory, including Dr Qiu and her husband, conducted experiments and co-authored six studies on infectious diseases such as Ebola, Lassa and Rift Valley fever with Chinese military researchers. .
Opposition parties initially voted to request the documents through the House of Commons special committee on Canada-China relations, but the government only provided censored versions of emails and memos on the question. Over 250 pages of documents have been fully written.
The Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP then adopted a Commons motion demanding the records. They ultimately voted to find the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to allow the documents to be released. The opposition had proposed guarantees that would have required the Clerk of the House of Commons, before making the documents public, to examine them and to redact information that could harm national security or affect a criminal investigation.
House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota plans to table a motion on August 13 to quash or dismiss the government’s lawsuit. The petition is expected to be heard in court from September 16. He has previously said in a court file that the government interferes with the “exclusive jurisdiction” of the House of Commons and cannot ignore a request from the chamber for the “people, papers and records” required to do its job.
“This constitutionally entrenched power is fundamental to our system of parliamentary democracy and to the essential role of Parliament as ‘the nation’s grand inquiry’ and in holding the executive branch of government to account,” Rota told the press. a court in July. deposit.
Philippe Lagassé, associate professor and Barton Chair at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said this court case is important, but he is not sure what Mr. O’Toole would add.
Prof Lagassé said the case could set an important precedent, as the government says national security is under threat and a majority-supported Commons motion nonetheless demands the documents.
“I’m not sure the government actually believes what it says, but let’s assume it does,” Professor Lagassé said.
“So it’s probably time that this issue was settled once and for all – the question of the relationship between parliamentary privilege with respect to the production of documents and various allegations regarding the limitations to that.” “
The Globe and Mail reported last month that the RCMP had been informed that Dr. Qiu and her husband had recently moved to China. Dr Qiu did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent by email on Thursday.
Ottawa’s explanation for what happened at the Winnipeg lab – where the world’s deadliest pathogens are studied – has evolved over time. The Public Health Agency of Canada initially described the reasons for the two scientists’ departures as being related to a “violation of policy”, an “administrative issue” and “possible breaches of security protocols”.
But, as the Commons Canada-China ad hoc committee searched for more details, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told MPs that disclosing information about the layoffs would “endanger Canada’s national security.” The government’s court record also indicated that the information sought could be harmful to Canada’s international relations, national defense and national security.
Instead, the Trudeau government provided the unredacted documents to the Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence (NSICOP), which is not a committee of Parliament and does not report to the House. Mr. Trudeau has the power to prevent the committee from disclosing information to the public.
NSICOP chairman, Liberal MP David McGuinty, could not be reached immediately on when the organization could release a report to Canadians on the documents from the Winnipeg lab.
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