Conservative accuses Liberals of shutting down debate on Winnipeg lab security breach


A Conservative MP is accusing the Liberals of shutting down debate on how two scientists studying deadly viruses at a special lab in Winnipeg were able to work closely and covertly with China — and how the federal  government responded to the national security scandal.

Conservative MPs on the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics asked for an emergency meeting to discuss a proposed motion to study the recent release of federal documents related to the dismissal of two scientists — Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Keding Cheng — from the National Microbiology Lab.

The Liberals, with help of the NDP, voted to end debate on the motion and adjourn for the day.

“This is a grave and serious matter,” Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said before the committee got underway Monday morning.

According to the documents tabled by the federal government, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) concluded Qiu was “intentionally” sharing scientific information and materials with China — potentially putting people’s health in jeopardy.

The intelligence service also said it believed Cheng was not truthful in his interviews and had worked with a restricted visitor at PHAC “who is connected to [China’s] People’s Liberation Army.”

When confronted over her ties to China, “Ms. Qiu continued to make blanket denials, feign ignorance or tell outright lies,” said a June 2020 CSIS assessment.

The Public Health Agency of Canada ultimately decided to dismiss the pair, stating that  “Dr. Qui represents a very serious and credible danger to the government of Canada.”

Last week, Health Minister Mark Holland acknowledged the documents reveal a “lax adherence to security protocols.”

Chong said the released documents represent the start of an inquiry, not the end.

“Parliament has a job to hold the government accountable,” he told the committee. 

Liberal MP says issue not within committee’s mandate

The Conservative motion calls on multiple players to take questions from committee members, including the head of departmental security at PHAC, CSIS director David Vigneault, the prime minister’s national security adviser Nathalie Drouin and members of cabinet, including Health Minister Mark Holland and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc. 

Before the committee voted on the motion, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid — who was part of an ad hoc committee that worked to release the redacted documents — moved that the meeting be adjourned.

WATCH | Mystery surrounding scientists fired from high-security lab points to larger issues 

Mystery surrounding scientists fired from high-security lab points to larger issues

Two leading scientists are standing by their former colleagues, a pair of researchers fired from Canada’s National Microbiology Lab, instead pointing the finger at issues inside the high-security facility itself.

She called it “unacceptable” that the two scientists lied to PHAC about their work in China but said the motion was not within the committee’s mandate and did not reach the bar for an emergency meeting. 

“It’s not necessary, it’s not urgent,” she said.

With support of the NDP, the Liberals successfully voted to end debate on the motion.

Conservative committee chair John Brassard called it a “dilatory” move.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the effect of Khalid’s motion was to “shut down debate.”

“What is evident upon reading these documents is that there was a massive breakdown with respect to the flow of intelligence and information within the government of Canada,” he said.

Qiu and Cheng were marched out of the National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019, and later had their security clearances revoked. They were officially dismissed in January of 2021.

CBC made multiple attempts to contact them at their Winnipeg home, but their whereabouts are not known.

The RCMP says it’s still investigating the matter. 

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa has denied that China stole Canadian information.

“The allegation that China tried to steal the secrets of Canada is entirely groundless,” said an embassy statement. “We firmly oppose this.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s asked Drouin to look into what happened at the lab and to make recommendations.

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