The Liberal government has proposed a deal that would end a parliamentary deadlock over its eight-month refusal to release secret documents related to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s High Security Infectious Disease Laboratory.
Government House Leader Mark Holland said Thursday evening in the House of Commons that the federal cabinet was prepared to hand all documents to a special committee of members of the Liberal, Conservative, Bloc and NDP parties. A panel of three former senior judges would settle any disputes over whether to make the records public.
“We believe this proposal is a good faith effort by the government to address this issue responsibly,” said Mr. Holland. “It recognizes the role of the House of Commons in doing its job and it also recognizes the government’s obligation to protect Canadians from harm that could result from the disclosure of sensitive national security information.
Federal opposition parties have attempted to resurrect an order from the House of Commons from the previous legislature that required the government to release documents that could shed light on why Ottawa expelled and then fired Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, from the National Microbiology Laboratory of Canada. in Winnipeg.
More than 250 pages of documents have been completely hidden from MPs, and hundreds more have been partially censored. They also relate to the transfer, in March 2019, of samples of the deadly virus to the Wuhan Institute of Virology which was supervised by Dr Qiu.
The government sued House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota in June, to an unprecedented extent, to prevent the documents from being released. When Parliament returned last month, opposition parties called on the Speaker to rule on a question of privilege and find the government in contempt of Parliament for attempting to use the courts to challenge authority of the House to order the publication of the documents.
During the campaign for the fall election, the government withdrew the court challenge. If the President has found a At first glance As a matter of privilege, the Conservatives, supported by the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Green parties, had planned to support a motion to issue a warrant for the documents. The House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms would execute the warrant.
Last month, Mr. Holland said opposition parties would have to start all over in the new Parliament by passing another motion to force the documents to be released – a delaying tactic that could take months of debate.
On Thursday Mr. Holland backed out.
Mr. Holland said the ad hoc committee would include a member from each party and an alternate. MPs are expected to undergo a thorough security check and read documents in a secure facility. They would be helped by what Mr. Holland called “non-partisan public servants with security clearances.”
Mr. Holland said members of the committee would receive redacted and unredacted versions of the documents. Committee members would choose the panel of three former senior judges to act as arbitrators in any dispute over what can be disclosed to Parliament and the public.
“The panel of arbitrators agreed to by all parties would take a binding decision on how this information could be made available to MPs and the public, without compromising national security, national defense or international relations,” a- he declared. “This could happen through writing, writing summaries, or publishing all or part of the material. “
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said he could not immediately comment on the proposal, saying he needed time to review it with his colleagues.
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson said in a statement that the Liberals had shown “extreme disdain for democracy, the role of Parliament and our roles as MPs” in stagnant for eight months. “Too often this Liberal government treats the House of Commons as an inconvenience,” she said.
Ms McPherson said the NDP would not comment on the proposal until they carefully considered it “to make sure it strikes the right balance.”
The Liberal proposal is similar to what the Harper government established in 2010, when Parliament ordered the release of secret documents about the transfer of Taliban prisoners by Canadian soldiers to Afghan forces.
The Canada-China Commons committee first ordered the Public Health Agency of Canada to turn over all documents related to the firing of the two scientists on March 31.
The government has warned that disclosure of information in documents could endanger national security, and in the June 2021 court file, it could be “harmful to international relations, national defense or national security” .
The two scientists lost their security clearances in July 2019 and the RCMP were called in to investigate. They were made redundant in January 2021.
Opposition parties have said they suspect the government is hiding behind national security to avoid revealing politically embarrassing information.
They noted that the government initially claimed the documents could not be released for confidentiality reasons, but suddenly raised the issue of national security.
The Globe reported that the RCMP are investigating whether the two laid-off scientists have passed Canadian intellectual property over to China, including the Wuhan Institute. The investigation focuses on the possibility that materials such as plasma DNA molecules, which could be used to recreate vaccines or viruses, have been transferred to Chinese authorities without the approval of the Public Health Agency. from Canada.
The Globe also reported that Dr Qiu, who headed the vaccine and antiviral therapy development section at the Winnipeg lab, collaborated on scientific papers with Chinese military researchers. (The Globe reported that the RCMP have been informed that scientists have moved to China.)
The government had previously said it would only hand over the unredacted documents to an entity called the Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence, which is not a committee of Parliament. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the power to prevent the committee from releasing information if it believes it could harm national security, national defense or international relations.
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