Liberals are pushing conservatives to change their minds about proposals for Winnipeg laboratory documents

The Liberals have for nine months refused to issue edited versions of documents about the firing of two scientists from the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory.Shannon VanRaes / The Globe and Mail

The left-wing government is urging conservatives to reconsider their rejection of a proposal to deal with secret documents on the firing of two infectious scientists.

The case led to a parliamentary showdown in June last year, with opposition parties coming together and citing parliamentary privilege to order the government to publish records of the case.

The Liberals would not hand over the documents to the House of Commons. Instead, before Christmas, they proposed handing over the records to a special party committee of MPs and leaving it to three retired judges to decide what could be made public.

Opposition leader Erin O’Toole has already rejected the proposal, saying he wants the Liberals to stick to a plan they first launched in June last year to have documents from the lower house’s veterinarian delivered to MPs. Mr. O’Toole also suggested the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, and Canada’s National Security Adviser, then consider what information to edit.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mark Holland wrote a letter to his Conservative counterpart, Gérard Deltell, saying that national security experts support the liberal compromise, which would give MPs access to the secret documents without compromising national security.

CSIS first warned Ottawa of national security concerns from two researchers at the top disease laboratory

“Simply put, they strongly warn that if the government allows the House of Commons to decide which classified documents to publish, Canada’s access to intelligence from international allies could be ‘seriously threatened,'” he wrote. Netherlands.

In an interview, Mr. The Netherlands that the NDP and the Bloc Québécois have not said no to the proposal, but that they are waiting for the wording of a memorandum of understanding on how the committee will work. He warned that the government could continue alone with the other parties if the Conservatives do not want to reconsider.

“We’ll have to consider working with those who are willing to participate in a fair process … but that’s certainly not my preference,” he said.

The experts quoted by Mr Holland were former Privy Council officials Greg Fyffe and Jim Mitchell, as well as former Canadian Ambassador to Washington Michael Kergin. They wrote a statement in The Globe and Mail in which they argued that the liberal proposal was a victory for the opposition parties to gain access to secret documents without harming Canada’s security and intelligence capabilities.

Holland said he also wonders if the Conservatives would want the CSIS director and the prime minister’s national security adviser to help the Commons Clerk review the documents, as they are actually reporting to Justin Trudeau – while the three retired judges would be selected by committees of MPs.

“We remain ready to work with all parties to reach agreement on this issue,” he said.

Conservative foreign critic Michael Chong said the party did not intend to change its position. He said the executive branch of government is accountable to the legislature and can not ignore the will of the House of Commons to produce documents.

He said the government should comply with Parliament’s order last June, which required the Canadian Public Health Agency (PHAC) to release the documents. That order disappeared with the dissolution of parliament when the election campaign in 2021 started, but the Conservatives plan to put forward a new proposal to start the process all over again.

Chong said the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc proposed a process for handling the documents that would protect national security. He accused the Liberals of ignoring this fact.

“The measures we proposed would ensure that the documents would not be published and the government would advise us on which parts of the document should be publicly edited because their public release would be detrimental to national security.”

Conservatives insist that their MPs will not sit on the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a unit that is not a committee in parliament. Chong said Mr Trudeau “politicized the NSICOP when he decided to use it as an excuse not to provide the documents as ordered by Parliament.”

Mr. Trudeau has the power to prevent the committee from releasing information if he believes it would harm national security, national defense or international relations. The government previously said it would only pass on unedited documents to the NSICOP.

“There are fundamental issues of democratic norms at stake here,” Mr Chong said.

He said that during the Afghanistan war, when opposition parties demanded internal records, they had not proposed any process to protect the security of the information.

However, the Liberals said their proposal reflects what the previous Harper government set up in 2010 to screen the release of documents on Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan.

The dispute is about hundreds of pages of internal records that may shed light on why Ottawa removed and then fired Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

The Liberal government has refused to publish unedited versions of the documents for nine months, warning that their release could jeopardize national security.

Opposition parties, referring to Parliament’s right to information, voted in June for the government to pass on the documents – and when the Liberals refused to do so, they voted to declare PHAC in contempt of parliament.

The government went to court to try to stop the publication of documents, but abandoned efforts when the election was called.

The documents sought also relate to the transfer of lethal virus samples in March 2019 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was overseen by Ms. Qiu. The two scientists lost their security clearances in July 2019, and the RCMP was called in to investigate the matter. Ms. Qui and Mr. Cheng was then fired in January 2021. It later emerged that a senior officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army was collaborating on research into Ebola with Ms. Qiu.

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