Wednesday, December 1

Feds drop court proceedings to keep virus lab documents secret

The Trudeau government is abandoning its quest for a court to prohibit the release of documents related to the firing of two scientists in Canada’s most secure laboratory.

He served the Federal Court with a suspension notice Tuesday afternoon.

By doing so, you are avoiding a legal confrontation over the long-standing principle that the House of Commons is supreme and has unlimited power to demand the production of any document it deems appropriate, no matter how sensitive and regardless of privacy laws. or national security.

Opposition parties joined forces earlier this year to pass a Commons order demanding that the Public Health Agency of Canada hand over all undrafted documents related to the firing of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng.

The couple were escorted out of the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 and subsequently fired last January.

The government approached Canada’s Federal Court in June to prevent disclosure of the documents, which it held would be detrimental to international relations or to national defense or national security.

However, the Commons’ order to produce the documents, along with all other business before the house, was terminated when Parliament was dissolved Sunday for a federal election.

As a result, Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Gruber said Tuesday that “it wouldn’t do any good” to continue the court case.

Following the case would have put Liberal MP Anthony Rota in an awkward position as he campaigns for reelection in northern Ontario by mounting Nipissing-Timiskaming.

As Speaker of the House of Commons, he was the named defendant in the court case. He had vowed to fight the Liberal government’s judicial request.

In fact, in a recent presentation to the court, Rota asked him to dismiss the case, arguing that the courts do not have jurisdiction to review the exercise of the parliamentary privilege of sending for the “persons, documents and records” deemed necessary.

The federal government abandons the judicial search to keep the laboratory documents secret. #CDNPoli #PHAC #NML

“This constitutionally ingrained power is central to our system of parliamentary democracy and to the critical role of Parliament in acting as the ‘great inquiry of the nation’ and holding the executive branch of government accountable,” Rota said in a notice from motion.

The executive and judicial powers do not have competence to question, invalidate, modify, control or review the exercise of this privilege by the Chamber, he added.

Gruber said the Spokesman’s motion to strike now is “unnecessary.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole had requested the court’s permission to intervene in the process.

Dropping the case is “another attempt by Justin Trudeau to cover up the truth about the Winnipeg lab documents,” said Mathew Clancy, spokesman for the Conservative election campaign.

The decision to drop the case puts an inconclusive end to the months-long power struggle between opposition parties and the Director of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Iain Stewart.

Opposition MPs repeatedly affirmed the right of the Commons and its committees to order the production of whatever document they wanted, while Stewart strongly argued that the law prevented him from publishing material that could violate privacy or national security laws.

The battle culminated in June when Stewart was brought before the Commons Bar Association to be reprimanded by Rota for his repeated refusal to provide the undrawn documents to MPs on the Canada-China relations committee. He was the first non-deputy to undergo such a procedure in more than a century.

Stewart had been ordered to turn over the documents to the Parliamentary paralegal at the time, but did not do so. Instead, he wrote to the attorney general, David Lametti, informing him that he was being ordered to release potentially harmful information contrary to the Canadian Evidence Act.

In accordance with the law, Lametti later said that the decision to go to court to avoid disclosure of the documents was made by justice officials.

Commons’ document order also included documents related to the transfer, overseen by Qiu, of the deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.

Stewart had said that the transfer of the virus had nothing to do with the subsequent layoffs. He also said there was no connection to COVID-19, a coronavirus that first appeared in China’s Wuhan province and that some believe the virology institute may have accidentally released, sparking a global pandemic.

However, the opposition parties continued to suspect a link and remained determined to view the unedited documents.

This Canadian Press report was first published on August 17, 2021.

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