Feds ask court to keep documents related to scientists’ firing under wraps

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is asking the Federal Court to prohibit disclosure of documents related to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s highest-security laboratory.

House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota reprimanded Public Health Agency of Canada head Iain Stewart on Monday over his repeated refusal to provide the unredacted documents to MPs on the Canada-China relations committee.

Court records say Stewart advised the attorney general Sunday in a notice under the Canada Evidence Act that sensitive or potentially injurious information would be disclosed should the documents be given to the committee.

After considering the notice, the attorney general filed an application in Federal Court requesting an order confirming the documents should remain under wraps.

The application says the disputed material is “information which if disclosed would be injurious to international relations or national defence or national security.”

The filing, which says a public hearing may be necessary, names Rota as the respondent in the matter. The next steps must be decided by the Federal Court judge assigned to the case, it adds.

Opposition parties have joined forces to demand the documents in hopes that they’ll shed light on why scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 and subsequently fired last January.

They are also seeking documents related to the transfer, overseen by Qiu, of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.

Stewart has said the virus transfer had nothing to do with the subsequent firings. He’s also said there is no connection to COVID-19, a coronavirus that first appeared in China’s Wuhan province and which some believe may have been released accidentally by the virology institute.

Nevertheless, opposition parties continue to suspect a link and remain determined to see the unredacted documents.

Counsel for the House of Commons will respond to the Federal Court notice in due course, said Heather Bradley, a spokeswoman in the Speaker’s office.

The court filing does not affect the Speaker’s ability to rule on the question of privilege before the House concerning the documents, she added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.

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