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This article was published 3/11/2021 (201 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A dramatic showdown in Parliament over censored documents from a Winnipeg virology lab is set for a second act.
"I think we're headed for much of the same kind of parliamentary conflict as we saw in the last Parliament," NDP health critic Don Davies said Wednesday.
In June, the federal government took the House of Commons Speaker to court as part of its months-long quest to withhold documents surrounding the expulsion of two researchers from the National Microbiology Laboratory.
In July 2019, renowned Ebola researcher Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were removed from the Arlington Street lab and later terminated by the Public Health Agency of Canada, which cited an "administrative matter" involving "possible policy breaches."
The RCMP is investigating Qiu and Cheng, but neither has been charged.
Months before her ouster, Qiu had sent samples of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Sources in Winnipeg and Ottawa have told the Free Press this was done without adequate paperwork, an allegation Public Health has denied.
In any case, opposition parties have spent months trying to access the government’s records about what happened.
Ottawa has only provided highly censored documents, citing privacy rules for months, before suddenly saying the records could endanger national security.
By law, MPs have almost unconstrained powers to compel documents. Opposition parties have asked the government to have the Commons law clerk examine the records and withhold sensitive material, instead of letting Public Health make that call.
"What I cannot accept is the government redacting or censoring their own documents, particularly when political embarrassment may be the issue here," Davies said in an interview.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois this week said they, too, plan to keep pressing for answers.
The office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos insists it has been transparent.
"We worked collaboratively with Parliament and provided the documents requested… with protections in place for national security," wrote spokesman Andrew MacKendrick.
"We also proposed additional reasonable pathways to Parliament to share information, in a way that doesn't compromise national security."
The Liberals had proposed sharing the uncensored records with a national security panel of MPs and senators who are approved by the prime minister, which the other parties rejected.
"It's not for the Liberal government to tell Parliament where documents go when they've been requested by (MPs)," said Davies, who was a member of that national security panel until the August election call.
This spring's spat escalated to the Commons summoning Public Health’s top bureaucrat to be admonished in the chamber by the Speaker.
Davies expects another months-long battle for information.
"This Parliament has the same duty as the last Parliament, which is to stand up for our system of government, and the right of Canadian people to get access to the information we need, to ensure the government is acting appropriately," he said.
In May, the Globe and Mail reported the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had first tipped off Public Health about Qiu and her husband, raising concerns about their contacts in China and the possible transfer of intellectual property.