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Liberals want new committee to study Winnipeg lab documents


OTTAWA – Government proposes the creation of a new House of Commons committee, advised by a panel of three former senior judges, to sift through sensitive documents relating to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s top laboratory security.

A letter signed by Government House Leader Mark Holland on Thursday, and written to his counterparts across the way, indicates that although the government maintains that this information is best kept with the Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence (NSICOP ), they are open to finding a Solution.

The proposal would allow this new group of MPs to have access to unredacted documents relating to the issues surrounding the Winnipeg lab.

Opposition parties have long been fighting over why Dr Xiangguo Qiu and Dr Keding Cheng were escorted out of the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 and fired 18 months later by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

There are also concerns and questions about whether their terminations are related to the fact that four months before their withdrawal, Qiu sent a shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan.

PHAC President Iain Stewart gave no insight into the matter and was publicly berated in the House of Commons in late June for failing to hand over the documents in question.

Former Health Minister Patty Hajdu referred the case and provided the documents to NSICOP, which includes members of the House and Senate, and has a mandate to analyze any activity carried out by a department related to security. national or intelligence.

“NSICOP has a proven track record as a collaborative, non-partisan organization. It showed it could work well for Canadians, ”read a letter, obtained by CTV News.

“Unfortunately, opposition parties in the House did not agree with referring this matter to NSICOP.”

The Liberals suggest they have found a “responsible and democratic” solution, a solution that was used by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010 to respond to calls from MPs who wanted access to records related to the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.

The government and opposition parties would sign, if they agreed, a memorandum of understanding to create the ad hoc committee, “with appropriate safeguards,” to review the documents.

The panel of arbitrators would then determine that “relevant and necessary information” could be made public while also weighing the risk to national security.

“Members of the ad hoc committee would operate in a secure government facility and be subject to appropriate security measures to protect sensitive and confidential information. The committee and panel would be supported by non-partisan officials with security clearance, ”the letter said.

If there was a disagreement on what should be released, the judges would intervene.

“The panel of arbitrators would make a binding decision on how this information could be made available to MPs and the public without including national security, national defense or international relations,” the letter said.

Holland said the proposal recognizes the House’s role in holding government to account, while respecting its job of keeping Canadians safe.

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