House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota intends to face the Liberal government in a legal battle over the disclosure of documents related to the firing of two scientists in Canada’s top-security laboratory.
The President’s Office says that the President’s legal adviser has informed the Attorney General that Rota – who is named as a defendant on behalf of the House of Commons in the Liberal government’s lawsuit – will challenge the jurisdiction of the court on the basis of the parliamentary privilege, unless the government abandons its request to block disclosure of documents.
Rota told the House of Commons on Wednesday that his argument would be “that the legal system has no jurisdiction over the operations of the House.” We are our own jurisdiction.
“This is something we are going to fight tooth and nail to protect.”
Opposition MPs said they were shocked by the government’s lawsuit.
Liberal government and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) refuse to release documents related to the dismissal of scientist Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Keding Cheng, who were escorted from the premises of the National Microbiology Laboratory in 2019 during an RCMP investigation.
The two were officially fired in January this year.
Opposition parties joined forces in the House of Commons earlier this month to order PHAC to turn over all unredacted documents related to the two scientists’ firing.
The Liberal government asked the court earlier this week to ban the disclosure of the documents and named Rota, a Liberal MP, as a respondent in the case.
The Liberal government is concerned about the possible impact of the disclosure of sensitive information on international relations, national security and national defense.
PHAC President Iain Stewart said he was prohibited under the Canada Evidence Act from disclosing “sensitive or potentially harmful information” unless the Attorney General and the Federal Court authorize disclosure.
“Mr. Stewart’s intention is to comply with the law. It is not to challenge Parliament,” he said through his lawyer in a letter tabled in the House earlier this week. week.
The opposition parties’ motion called for the documents to be turned over to the parliamentary law clerk, who would examine them confidentially and redact anything he said could compromise national security or the ongoing police investigation.
The motion specified that the Canada-China Relations Committee could, after consultation with the law clerk, choose to release any redacted material.
The minority Liberal government defied the order of the House and instead provided the unredacted documents to the all-party Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence, the NSICOP, whose members have maximum security clearance and are bound to secrecy. .
The Liberal government argued that the NSICOP was the appropriate body to review the documents without endangering national security or compromising ongoing investigations.
“The house has the power”
Last week, Rota decided that sending the documents to NSICOP is not an acceptable alternative as it is a relatively new body and not a standing committee of Parliament.
Rota used a rarely used House procedure on Monday to publicly reprimand Stewart for his failure to deliver requested documents.
“The powers in question, like all those enjoyed by the House collectively and individual Members of Parliament, are essential to the performance of their duties,” Rota said. “The House has the power, and even the duty, to reaffirm them when obstruction or interference interferes with its proceedings.
“As the guardian of these rights and privileges, this is precisely what the House has asked me to do today, by ordering the Speaker to reprimand you for the contempt of the Public Health Agency of Canada. , refusing to submit the required documents. “
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, who alleges the Liberal government’s refusal to release the documents is proof of a cover-up, said the Tories supported Rota’s position.
“The Trudeau government’s decision to use Canada’s independent judiciary to defy the orders of the House of Commons undermines the rule of law and our parliamentary democracy. It should concern all Canadians, ”said Chong.
“Until the documents are released, Canada’s Conservatives will continue to demand answers and hold the Trudeau government to account. We will protect our national security. ”