Canada PHAC president Iain Stewart reprimanded in House by Speaker for failing to produce documents
Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin files legal challenge of dismissal from vaccine rollout
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin is challenging the federal government's decision to publicly terminate his secondment to lead Canada's vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Last month, the Department of National Defence issued a terse three-line statement late on a Friday saying that Maj.-Gen. Fortin would be leaving his post and his future would be decided by the acting chief of the defence staff.
The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada appeared before the bar at the House of Commons today, where he was publicly admonished by Speaker Anthony Rota for failing to turn over to a Commons committee documents related to the the firing of two scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Rota called Iain Stewart into the House and began his reprimand by telling Stewart that the House of Commons and its parliamentary committees have defined powers outlined in law that must be followed.
Government defying order to produce documents on fired scientists: Speaker
OTTAWA — House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota says the Trudeau government has not complied with an order to produce unredacted documents related to the firing of two scientists from Canada's highest security laboratory. In a ruling Wednesday, Rota confirms, as opposition parties have contended, that the Commons and its committees have an unlimited power to order the production of any documents they please, even those with national security implications.
"The powers in question, like all those enjoyed by the House collectively and by members individually, are essential to the performance of their duties," Rota said. "The House has the power, and indeed the duty to reaffirm them when obstruction or interference impedes with its deliberations.
"As guardian of these rights and privileges, that is precisely what the House has asked me to do today, by ordering the Speaker to reprimand you for the Public Health Agency of Canada's contempt, refusing to submit the required documents."
Stewart also was ordered to bring with him the unredacted documents demanded by opposition MPs. The Speaker said Stewart's lawyer had reached out to Rota's office earlier in the day saying he would be unable to produce the documents.
Conservatives threaten to boycott intelligence body established by Trudeau amid concerns over Winnipeg lab breach
OTTAWA — The Conservatives on Thursday threatened to boycott a key intelligence oversight body, marking a sharp escalation in political pressure over the government’s withholding of documents that might explain why two scientists were fired from a high-security infectious disease lab earlier this year. The ramp-up comes as opposition members also voted on Thursday to declare the Public Health Agency of Canada in contempt of Parliament for declining to provide the top-secret details surrounding the matter.
Calling someone to the bar of the House is a rarely used procedure meant to publicly shame a person who has committed "an offence against the dignity or authority of Parliament," according to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition.
Since 1913, it has not been used against a private citizen. It has been used twice, in 1991 and 2002, to discipline MPs who had grabbed the ceremonial mace during heated Commons proceedings.
Opposition parties joined forces earlier this month to pass a motion in the Commons ordering PHAC to turn over all unredacted documents related to the firing of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her biologist husband, Kending Cheng, who were escorted off the premises in 2019 and were officially fired in January of this year.
The motion called for the documents to be handed to the parliamentary law clerk, who would confidentially review them and redact anything he felt would compromise national security or the ongoing police investigation.
Health agency head in 'extraordinary situation' after opposition motion puts him in contempt of Parliament
OTTAWA — After his department was found in contempt of Parliament for failing to provide top-secret documents to a special House committee, the head of Canada’s federal health agency said he now finds himself in an “extraordinary situation” unlike any he has witnessed in his nearly 30-year career. Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, did not clarify whether he intends to adhere to a parliamentary request for him to appear before the House of Commons on Monday to receive an “admonishment” by the Speaker.
The motion specified that the Canada-China relations committee, after consulting with the law clerk, could choose to make public any redacted material.
In defiance of the House order, the minority Liberal government instead provided the unredacted documents to the all-party National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, NSICOP, whose members have top security clearance and are bound to secrecy.
NSICOP was established by the Liberal government in 2018 to review Canada's national security and intelligence activities.
The Liberal government argued that NSICOP was the appropriate body to examine the documents without putting at risk national security or compromising any ongoing investigations.
Last week, Rota ruled that sending the documents to NSICOP is not an acceptable alternative since it's a relatively new body and not a standing committee of Parliament.
Liberal government must obey House order: Chong
Today, Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodríguez said the government remains concerned about the possible impacts of releasing sensitive intelligence.
Net-zero climate bill, conversion therapy ban, lab documents on Parliament's agenda
OTTAWA — Parliamentarians are entering what could be their final stretch in the House of Commons before summer break as the Liberal government sharpens its focus on two key pieces of legislation. On the agenda are the Liberals' proposed ban on conversion therapy and a law that would track Canada's progress on reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Given the minority government, the possibility of a general election at any time hangs over the House of Commons -- autumn marks two years since the Liberals eked out their win.
"While the government accepts that the Parliament and parliamentary council have the appropriate security clearance to review the information, we do not believe he has the necessary training or expertise in national security related information to make the necessary assessment" of what can be released, Rodríguez said.
Rodríguez said disclosing sensitive information could compromise covert investigative methods used in intelligence gathering or put at risk human sources of information and their families. "It can have a severe impact on Canada's reputation as a responsible security partner," he said.
Rodríguez proposed two possible methods that would allow MPs to review the documents.
The first involves striking an ad-hoc committee of MPs,under former prime minister Stephen Harper. MPs who took part in that committee were sworn to an oath of confidence in return for access to documents.
The second proposal was to have the law clerk and parliamentary council, assisted by national security experts, look at the documents together to decide what can be released.
Conservative MP Michael Chong argued that the House could not stand by and let a government refuse to deliver documents lawfully ordered by the House of Commons.
Rota said he would take the arguments into consideration and come back to the House with a ruling on what to do next.
House Speaker to challenge court's jurisdiction in dispute with government over document disclosure .
Opposition parties joined forces in the Commons earlier this month to order PHAC to turn over all unredacted documents related to the firing of the two scientists. The Liberal government asked the court earlier this week to prohibit the disclosure of the documents and named Rota, a Liberal MP, as the respondent in the matter.The Liberal government says it is concerned about the possible impact of releasing sensitive intelligence on international relations, national security and national defence.