As Parliament resumed this week, opposition parties picked up where they left off in their quest to obtain more information from the Liberal government pertaining to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s highest-security laboratory.
During the first session of the new Parliament on Nov. 23, all opposition parties signalled their intention to pursue a new battle with the Liberals to obtain documents that provide more information on the firing of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng, who were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab (NML) in 2019, and later fired.
In an unprecedented move during the last Parliament, the government sued the Speaker of the House, Liberal Anthony Rota, to prevent the release of the documents after the House asked the Liberal government to provide them. The case was dropped with the dissolution of Parliament in mid-August.
Now, opposition parties are again asking for the documents and decrying the judicial measures used by the federal government to counter their release.
“The fact that the government openly defied the authority of the House of Commons constitutes a prima facie attack on Parliament and its most fundamental rights,” said Tory MP and his party’s House leader Gérard Deltell.
Deltell raised a point of privilege asking Speaker Anthony Rota to find the government in contempt of Parliament for challenging the House’s authority and to resurrect an order of the House of Commons that required the government to disclose the records.
As Deltell was making his case, government House Leader Mark Holland intervened to say that continuing on that point of order would require a motion or committee report, since the issue was raised in the previous Parliament, “and those studies and motions are no longer in effect.”
“It is premature; it is not in order at this time,” Holland said.
The Speaker agreed with Holland and required Deltell to wrap up his intervention.
“Never in the history of Canada has the executive branch used the judiciary to attack the legislative branch,” Deltell said, before receiving support from all opposition parties.
The NDP, Bloc, and Green parties agreed the government must reveal the information.
“If a majority of members in this place vote to produce documents that they deem necessary to carry out their duty to the people they represent, who elected them to be here, then this must be complied with,” said NDP MP Don Davies.
“This is regardless of how embarrassing or inconvenient a government of the day may find such a request. Indeed, that is often when it is most important to comply.”
“Time has gone by, and it is hard to assert that this matter is premature,” said Green Party MP Elizabeth May.
Bloc MP Alain Therrien said the Speaker had promised that in the event of a dissolution, the Speaker of the new Parliament would “review and rule on the questions of privilege that remained unanswered. We are currently debating one such question.”
“I believe that this question needs to be given priority, especially given its importance in maintaining the authority and dignity of the House of Commons,” said Therrien.
The Liberal government says the reason it can’t provide the documents is that there are national security and privacy concerns with their release.
Chinese-born Xiangguo Qiu sent samples of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in March 2019, with the permission of NML authorities. She also travelled to Wuhan several times in official capacity to provide training to WIV personnel.
Qiu also collaborated with high profile Chinese military Maj. Gen. Chen Wei on virus research.