Liberal-NDP coalition votes down inquiry into Winnipeg lab leaks

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong sponsored a motion to investigate how Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, transferred dangerous viruses out of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, with the deadly pathogens landing in the hands of Chinese military operatives.

Liberal-NDP coalition votes down inquiry into Winnipeg lab leaks
The Canadian Press / Peter Power and The Canadian Press / Christinne Muschi
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal-NDP coalition joined forces Monday to block further inquiry into the Winnipeg lab leaks.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong sponsored a motion to investigate how Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, transferred confidential viral strains despite raising security concerns during their tenure at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

The husband-and-wife duo lost their security clearances at the lab in July 2019 with a subsequent dismissal in January 2021. Their whereabouts are not known, reported The Globe and Mail.

“The People’s Republic of China and its entities infiltrated Canada’s top microbiology lab, a national-security breach representing a very serious and credible threat to Canada,” Chong told the Commons Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa has denied any wrongdoing in its dealings with Dr. Qiu and her husband. “The allegation that China tried to steal the secrets of Canada is entirely groundless. We firmly oppose this,” reads their statement.

Chong criticized the federal government for withholding confidential documents from Opposition parties for three years, citing “national security” concerns.

“The government defied four orders of the House of Commons and its committee for these documents,” he said.

However, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid adjourned the committee hearings with support from her caucus and NDP MP Matthew Green to prevent a parliamentary investigation.

The latter contends the NDP are not against holding a parliamentary inquiry into the security breaches through the Canada-China Committee. “That's the appropriate committee to investigate this mess,” he said in a statement. 

“New Democrats will continue the necessary work for accountability and transparency in this file.”

But Khalid accused the Conservatives of playing “political games,” reiterating partisan attacks by the Prime Minister, who accused the Conservatives of seeking “partisan advantage.”

On Thursday, Trudeau told reporters the federal government undertook “many, many initiatives” on how to move forward appropriately but did not elaborate. 

“Did he fire anybody? No, no one was fired,” said Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre. “Did he call an inquiry to get to the bottom of it? No, he didn't do that either.”

A special parliamentary committee penned an urgent letter last month urging all House of Commons parties to declassify Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) documents relevant to the firing of Qiu and Cheng.

“The information appears to be mostly about protecting the organization from embarrassment for failures in policy and implementation, not legitimate national security concerns, and its release is essential to hold the government to account,” it said.

The letter clarified that only the identities of the two scientists or Chinese government officials would be disclosed. However, the Trudeau Liberals cited national security reasons for withholding the documents. 

Conservative MP Michael Cooper lamented the “massive breakdown” of intelligence within the government that led to the security breach.

“The buck stops with the Prime Minister,” he said. “When did the Prime Minister know about this massive national security breach? Did he learn about it in 2019 or did he learn about it in January 2021 or some time in between?”

Had Chong’s motion passed, the ethics committee would have called top officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault, Health Minister Mark Holland, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Natalie Drouin, national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to testify.

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