(Ottawa) In defiance of the House of Commons committee, the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) refuses to explain why two government scientists were expelled after 18 months of escorting them outside the laboratory with the highest levels of security in Canada.
It had until Friday before Iain Stewart to explain to members of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations why PHAC ended the employment of Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Keding Cheng in January.
Instead, he sent a letter to MPs saying that the Privacy Law does not allow him to participate in “employment matters or labor relations involving public officials.”
Stewart added that questions regarding the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation of Canadian scientists should be directed to the police.
The two scientists were taken out of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in July 2019 due to what was described at the time as a potential policy violation and administrative issue.
In his Friday letter, Mr. Stewart linked their departure to “a number of reviews” that PHAC began in 2018, “relating to potential violations of NML’s security protocols.”
Winnipeg NML is the safest laboratory in Canada and is designed to safely treat deadly infectious germs such as Ebola.
The primary health care center previously said that the escorted couple’s outing had nothing to do with the fact that Xiangguo Qiu four months earlier was responsible for delivering the Ebola and Hannepa virus to the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan.
In his message, Mr Stewart said that both worlds had “not had access to PHC facilities, infrastructure or assets” since July 2019.
Their appointment officially expired on January 20, and PHAC has since steadfastly refused to reveal the cause. Mr. Stewart cited the Privacy Act in his letter to Members of Parliament.
“The Privacy Act does not specifically consider providing parliamentarians with personal information on employment or labor relations matters relating to public officials,” he wrote.
But Conservative MP Garnett Genois said that the committee’s opposition members did not intend to drop the case.
The Conservative Party and Quebec Bloc MP Stephane Bergeron forced an emergency meeting of the committee next week.
At that meeting, Genoise said he would submit a proposal to compel PHAC to hand over all documents related to both worlds to the panel, without any revisions. The proposal would ask the parliamentary clerk to review the documents to determine what, if any, should be revised for security or privacy reasons.
“We certainly will not give up,” said Mr. Genoise in an interview. There is clearly something more here. ”
At a tense committee meeting earlier this week, Mr Stewart said he would explore the possibility of providing an explanation to panel members in private. His message on Friday did not explicitly mention this option or the reason for excluding it.
Mr. Genoise argued that witnesses could not simply ignore orders to provide information to the House of Commons committees, which he said “shared certain characteristics with the court.”
“Parliamentary committees are not just a group of people meeting to discuss a topic. They have special powers on the basis of the fact that we are democratic and that our institutions must be subject to democratic oversight.”