The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Madam Speaker, today's debate is a very important one. Some might argue that this is simply a partisan attempt to embarrass the government. However, aside from the very important national security issues, what is at issue today is the pre-eminence of Parliament, the fact that it takes precedence over any laws a government might invoke to avoid being held accountable to parliamentarians. I will come back to this point later.
My colleague from already said that the Bloc Québécois would vote in favour of this motion, moved by my colleague from . We will vote for this motion because it is nearly identical to a motion that was unanimously passed by the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. I said "unanimously", because the Liberal members supported it. This motion was adopted in response to the Public Health Agency of Canada's intransigent, stubborn and bullheaded refusal to provide the documents parliamentarians were requesting. Even our Liberal colleagues were frustrated by the tight-lipped, stubborn attitude of PHAC representatives, so much so that they voted in favour of this motion, which was the subject of a recent report from the special committee.
I will touch briefly on this point, but I wonder why the Conservatives are using an opposition day to present a motion that is virtually identical to a motion that the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations reported on to the House and that could have been called for debate before being adopted.
Why are the Conservatives moving this motion this morning? The Liberal Party’s claim that the Conservatives are simply trying to embarrass the government may have some truth to it. However, beyond this strictly partisan aspect, which, I think, deserves to be mentioned, there is the fundamental issue I raised earlier: Parliament’s pre-eminence, the fact that it takes precedence over any laws the government might invoke to avoid complying with a request from a parliamentary committee.
Let us start at the beginning. We created the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations to look into the deterioration of relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China and to consider ways of re-establishing contact between the two countries. In the past, our relations have always been positive, cordial and characterized by a spirit of collaboration.
Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China when it was created and to establish trade and diplomatic relations with the country. Consider the writings of Quebec physician Norman Bethune, who took part in the legendary Long March of the Communist Party of China. Consider as well the aid provided by Canada, in the form of wheat and other grain, when the Chinese were literally starving to death. I think that this is a solid foundation for key, cordial relations between the two countries, but it is obvious that these relations have deteriorated dramatically in recent months.
We therefore set up this committee to look into the deterioration of relations, the possible causes and potential solutions.
Given that this is a minority government and that an election can be called at any time, we chose to partition our study into sections to safeguard our work.
Accordingly, we produce periodic progress reports on what we have done so far. For example, we issued a report on the situation in Hong Kong, which I believe deserves our careful attention. At that point in our work we were looking into the security issue.
In this part of the study pertaining to security, we were looking at everything from the Chinese government’s foreign influence operations in Canada to interference or, at the very least, possible espionage activities by Chinese companies that report to the Government of the People's Republic of China. Obviously, the Canada-China relationship concerning microbiology research was also discussed.
I must say that, for our part, this portion of our investigation on security started out rather candidly. Of course, we wanted to look into the CanSino case, for example, the collaboration between Canadian and Chinese institutions to develop a vaccine. Curiously, the plug was pulled on this collaboration, and now China is using vaccine diplomacy to increase its influence in the world by generously offering its vaccine to developing countries that desperately need it, but also making sure to create a state-client relationship between the People's Republic of China and these countries.
When the Public Health Agency of Canada appeared on March 22, we met with its president, Iain Stewart, as well as with Guillaume Poliquin, who heads the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. We were surprised when Mr. Stewart refused to answer entirely legitimate questions. The fact remains that, on March 31, 2019, two researchers at the Winnipeg laboratory, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and Dr. Keding Cheng, took a commercial Air Canada flight carrying two living viruses, Ebola and Henipah, in their luggage to deliver them to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, now infamous due to the rumours and allegations that continue to circulate to the effect that the coronavirus may have escaped from the facility.
Obviously, we were concerned by the fact that they were able to carry two extremely dangerous viruses to a Chinese laboratory on a commercial flight. In the same March 22 committee meeting, Mr. Stewart explained that everything was done according to standards. I do not know what standards apply when carrying deadly viruses on a regular commercial flight. In any event, we were assured that this was the case, and we have no reason to believe that this approach was based on a scientific, evidence-based assessment.
I would like to point out that Dr. Qiu received the Governor General's award in 2018 for having helped develop a treatment for Ebola at the Winnipeg laboratory. This award is normally given to Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. This shows how highly Dr. Qiu's work was regarded.
On July 5, 2019, however, Dr. Qiu, Dr. Cheng and their students were removed from the Winnipeg laboratory. That is more than a little curious.
We also learned that, on January 20, 2021, the couple was officially fired, and an explanation has never been given for their removal or their dismissal. Candidly, I asked Mr. Stewart why, if everything was done according to standards in the transfer of the viruses on a commercial Air Canada flight to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the couple had been removed from the Winnipeg laboratory and fired without explanation. Mr. Stewart told us that he could not answer that question.
We asked him why he could not answer and told him that he was required to. It became apparent that Mr. Stewart had certain privacy concerns. Of course, these concerns may be legitimate. They may have to do with national security or an ongoing criminal investigation. All of these concerns may be entirely legitimate.
We gave Mr. Stewart the opportunity to send the committee information confidentially, so that it could better understand what was going on without any potentially harmful information in terms of the protection of personal information, national security or a criminal investigation reaching the public.
To our surprise, we received a letter from Mr. Stewart stating simply that he could not submit any documents because of the Privacy Act. Despite the fact that we offered him the opportunity to provide the information confidentially, he told us that he could not comply or did not want to comply with this request from the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.
We insisted and, a few days later, on April 20, we received a first batch of heavily redacted documents. Obviously, we were unhappy that the agency continues to refuse to provide the documents. We met with the House's Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, who told us that the committee was within its rights. We therefore recalled Mr. Stewart, who appeared with Mr. Poliquin on May 10.
We were once again told that it was impossible to provide the committee with the information requested, because of the provisions of the Privacy Act, as if the parliamentary committee were just another litigant requesting information from the agency. This parliamentary committee is not just another litigant requesting information in the House.
I want to share an opinion that was shared with us by the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons. It states, and I quote:
...the committee's powers to send for papers and records comes from section 18 of the Constitution. It comes from parliamentary privilege and gives the power to send for persons and papers. It is at a higher level than ordinary statutes, and Speaker Milliken in his ruling and the Supreme Court of Canada have recognized the primacy of Constitutional provisions, and in particular parliamentary privilege....
It's the same authority that is pointed to, and that authority from Speaker Milliken makes it very clear, as does the authority in other Parliaments, that the constitutional authority of committees and of the House supersedes and is not limited by ordinary statutes like the Privacy Act or the Access to Information Act....Speaker Milliken was explicit on the point that the statutes do not allow the government to unilaterally determine that something would be confidential.
At the May 10 meeting, our colleague from also referred to provisions of the Privacy Act that clearly state that the act does not apply to parliamentary committees, it applies only to individuals subject to the law who request information. After repeated refusals by authorities at the Public Health Agency of Canada, the committee adopted a motion that is very similar to the one moved today by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills.
At first, our questions for PHAC were straightforward, but PHAC's stubborn, systematic refusal to provide the information requested by the special committee raised suspicions. Moreover, we have since learned of some disturbing information.
Last May, The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had recommended that two researchers, Dr. Qiu and her husband, Dr. Cheng, have their access to the Winnipeg laboratory revoked for national security reasons. Why? CSIS also had concerns, particularly about the transfer of intellectual property, with regard to information that the couple and their students had sent to China.
That same month, The Globe and Mail reported that at least seven scientists at the Winnipeg laboratory were collaborating with the Chinese army, publishing several articles jointly. One researcher, Professor Feihu Yan, had been able to work at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg despite working directly for the People's Liberation Army of China.
From what we have been able to glean, Canadian authorities have been rather nonchalant about national security. When Parliament tried to get to the bottom of this apparent lack of rigour, the government invoked completely specious reasons in a bid to escape its obligation to answer to Parliament.
It was disturbing enough that the Public Health Agency of Canada was refusing to answer questions from members of Parliament. It was even more disturbing to hear the and some of his ministers doing exactly the same thing during oral question period, when they responded to members' questions by saying that the two people had been fired and that they could unfortunately not provide any more information. By doing this, the Prime Minister and the ministers in question may also have been breaching the privileges of the House.
Getting back to what I was saying at the beginning of my speech, the issue here, beyond the partisan bickering, is Parliament's supremacy over ordinary Canadian laws by virtue of the parliamentary privilege enshrined in the Canadian Constitution, which the government is using as an excuse to refuse to provide parliamentarians with the information they are requesting. We thought only PHAC was doing this, but we now have proof that it is the entire government. Under the circumstances, we have no choice but to support our colleague's motion.
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to join in this debate today. I think it is an extremely important debate, having to do, principally, with the powers of the members of Parliament to do their duty to hold the government to account and to be, as has been determined, the ultimate arbiter of democracy in this country, once having been elected. I say this after listening to some very fulsome speeches, particularly by senior, experienced members of Parliament like the member for and the member for discussing these important matters.
I share with the member for a question, I suppose, as to why we are doing this as an opposition day motion, as there was not an order of reference to the House from the parliamentary committee, the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. I think it could have been dealt with that way. Perhaps it has something to do with why the government seems to have politicized this, as opposed to treating it as a serious motion with respect to the duties of parliamentarians, which is how I wish to treat it. I think this is something that should be treated that way by the House.
After all, we are dealing with the result of a unanimous decision of the Canada-China committee, after much deliberation, consideration and various amendments to the motion to ensure that it would be unanimous. We were unanimously of the view that the committee needed and was entitled to the documents in their unredacted form, so that we could carry out the committee's duty of due diligence with respect to whether the government, through PHAC, was withholding documents that we needed in order to do our job.
We have to put it into the context of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. The committee was formed for a very good reason, given the circumstances we were facing in the fall of 2019 with the situation with China. A number of things had come up that were of great concern, particularly the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, as well as relationships of concern and matters that had been raised. For example, there were concerns about the co-operation between the People's Liberation Army and the Canadian Armed Forces for a training exercise, which was subsequently cancelled due to security concerns being raised by some of our allies.
We heard testimony at the Canada-China committee regarding foreign influence within Canada and intimidation of Canadians, Chinese students and other Chinese nationals in Canada, which raised concerns. We had concerns about whether this had been dealt with properly by government agencies, police forces and others. We had concerns regarding the influence of China, through its agencies and other efforts, on research and intellectual property capture at our universities and other institutions.
This matter came up with respect to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The committee was concerned about the level of collaboration with Chinese researchers, in particular with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, and then the indications of co-operation with researchers who were associated with the People's Liberation Army, as well, and its other lab in China, which is engaged in research with a military point of view.
These concerns were serious. They were legitimate. They were relevant to the relationship between Canada and China, what measures Canada was taking to protect itself and whether it was doing a proper job doing so. These are matters of great concern, and the committee, under its obligation to carry out this task assigned to it by Parliament, was doing this work. As it happened, we all know what the Public Health Agency of Canada decided when we asked for documentation behind the notorious incident, in the sense of being well known and concerning, of the two individuals, researchers, being escorted out of the laboratory in Winnipeg and the subsequent termination of their services by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
This was something we were looking into in good faith to attempt to discover the factual basis and to see whether the concerns that were raised were dealt with appropriately and whether there were other concerns Canada might have with respect to this matter that were not being properly looked after. In fact, as was pointed out by the member for , our job, in part, is to ensure that if there is something wrong, and there clearly was something wrong, this kind of activity would not occur again.
This is a normal carrying out of the function of Parliament that is supported by law, by our Constitution and by our rules of procedure. As has been pointed out, it is very well established, but it was not very well established for a long time. It was established by Parliament in the classic and seminal ruling of Speaker Peter Milliken in April 2010, on a case involving the necessity of a parliamentary committee, another special committee, seeking documentation in support of an inquiry into Canada's activities in Afghanistan in relation to its obligations toward prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.
This was of a much higher level of concern and evaluation, and the refusal of the government of the day to make those documents available to the special committee on Afghanistan ultimately resulted in orders of the House and subsequent activities, which I will not go into in detail. However, the importance of the ruling of Speaker Milliken was that, under the Constitution, particularly section 18 of the Constitution, under the Parliament of Canada Act and under the rules and procedures of our House, this was something that very clearly needed to be delineated and was delineated by the Speaker.
This information, of course, was available to our committee and the rulings of our committee. When we made the inquiries that have been outlined by the member for and the member for , we did not receive the documents, and the reasons we were given had to do with statutes such as the Privacy Act and some reference to the context of national security. Well, that does not necessarily give rise to concerns about national security, but we were deprived of these documents.
In the ordinary course of the law, the decisions that were made by the Public Health Agency in refusing to make these documents available were, in fact, already determined by parliamentary procedure and by our own procedural rules: that the Privacy Act does not, in fact, relate to a reason for members of Parliament not having access to these documents.
In its report “Access to Information Requests and Parliamentary Privilege”, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs reported, back in 1991, as early as then, that “[s]ince parliamentary privileges form part of the Constitution, laws must be interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with them, and where there is a conflict between privileges and statutory provisions, the statutory provisions are 'of no force and effect'”. Therefore, assertions by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and by Mr. Stewart on its behalf, that it could not make documents available to members of Parliament on a parliamentary committee have already, in fact, been overruled, ruled to be of no force or effect.
The specific ruling set out in our Constitution Act, 1982, in section 52, says, “The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of that inconsistency, of no force or effect”. What was being presented to our committee by the Public Health Agency of Canada, on behalf of the Government of Canada, was that it was bound by the Privacy Act not to make available documents to us, as members of Parliament, yet our own Constitution clearly says that such laws are of no force or effect.
That is what we were faced with as a committee, which is why it is not a surprise that the members of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, including, as has been pointed out by me, experienced members such as the member for , the member for and of course the , who was on the committee as well, another senior member of Parliament, and the other members of Parliament unanimously supported a motion to not accept the rationale and reasons given by the Public Health Agency of Canada to refuse to make available documents in a non-redacted form.
We do not often see such definitive statements about legal matters, but it is pretty clear that the ruling of Speaker Milliken, a very seminal ruling that probably stands ahead of all others in the annals of parliamentary democracies under the Westminster model, is important. In the quotations provided to us in the rulings given by Speaker Milliken and other authorities, there are no limits on the powers of committees to require the production of papers by private bodies or individuals, provided the papers are relevant to the work of the committee as defined by reference. When select committees ordered papers to be produced by national industry, private solicitors all provided and produced papers related to a client. Statutory regulators have been ordered to produce papers whose release was otherwise subject to a statutory restriction.
It is clear that Parliament is not bound by this legislation and, as has been ruled, there are no limits on the powers of Parliament to get access to documents. Precautions need to be taken, and I think our committee, in making its motion, and the motion before us today, provide for some provision to ensure that documents will not be made public unless the committee, having had the opportunity to review the documents, is satisfied that they can be made public.
It is clear the motion before the House today indicates that the committee, although it may have the power to make documents public, does not have to do so in order to make recommendations or findings. That would sufficiently protect any national security issue of revealing details of an ongoing investigation. In lieu of making any information public, the committee may still rely on it for the purpose of making findings and recommendations in any subsequent report to the House. I think that is there for a purpose. It is there to ensure the committee can carry out its due diligence under its duty to do so and also hold government to account, and that if this measure needs to be brought to the attention of the House, it can do so without making any information public that should not be made public.
I think we have made it very clear that, under the committee's jurisdiction and under the powers that are granted to it by the constitution, our rulings of Speaker Milliken and the privileges of Parliament, this is within our purview as members of Parliament to carry out this function.
There are some who may not agree with that. I think we have seen arguments made in the past about that, but it is up to the House itself or members of the House to determine the appropriate way to safeguard the national interests in these questions. We have a situation where the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations has the means to do that through the experience of senior members of this House, as well as the advice of the parliamentary law clerk, who is Parliament's lawyer.
The Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel is giving legal advice to members of Parliament. Members of Parliament in this circumstance, represented by four parties in the House that have party status, are all present and have made a unanimous motion calling for these papers to be available to them in fulfilment of their parliamentary duty. It seems to me this is a matter of constitutional and parliamentary concern, as well as an important matter in dealing with Canada's relationship with China. The committee ought to be able to carry out its work and do so in a proper manner.
I regret that certain members of the Liberal Party who have spoken, in particular the , have sought to turn it into a partisan issue. That is regrettable. We have to recognize there are serious moments in this House when we have to look at the privileges of members of Parliament, take them seriously and put aside partisan differences in the pursuit of ensuring that we have a Parliament that can operate under the rules based on precedents and recognize that in our parliamentary system, Parliament is supreme. It is Parliament that has the ultimate power and control over whether a government is in office or not. This is not a motion of confidence obviously, but it is a question of whether the House ought to support the motion of a committee asking for documents to be made available to it in the ordinary course of conducting its business.
It is clearly a matter properly before the committee. It is one that is of great importance and important enough for a unanimous decision of the committee to pursue this question by having access to the proper documentation that is necessary for it to conduct its study.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Much is said these days about conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory is the idea that some covert organization or group of individuals is controlling and directing public events with some nefarious purpose in mind. A conspiracy theory supposes that events are controlled, coordinated and directed, and to a greater extent than appear on the surface. Conspiracy theories presume that someone, somewhere is ultimately coordinating all that takes place.
In the case of events that have unfolded at the Winnipeg Microbiology Lab and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, there was clearly no conspiracy at play. In fact, what we see is the polar opposite of a conspiracy. What we see from the government is an extreme lack of coordination, awareness and basic competence. It is not that the government is secretly trying to control our lives, but rather it is unable to control anything, including even to exercise enough control over its own operations to secure the safe functioning of vital public institutions.
Conspiracy theories always vastly overestimate the competence of government, and in this case, it is clear that the stench of incompetence, not conspiracy, should be what is driving our concerns.
When it comes to what happened in Winnipeg and in Wuhan, there are many things that we still do not know, and that is why the opposition is seeking documents, through our motion today, which will further elucidate the situation. There are many things that we do not know, but here is what we know so far.
We know that two scientists at the Winnipeg Microbiology Lab sent deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China in March 2019. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has connections with the Chinese military and engages in so-called “gain-of-function experiments”.
Gain-of-function experiments are experiments whereby efforts are made to make a virus more deadly or more contagious for research purposes. Therefore, we know that deadly viruses were sent from Canada to a lab in China, and that this lab has a mandate to create new and more dangerous viruses and to collaborate with the Chinese military.
We also know that American officials had already raised serious concerns about security at the Wuhan Institute of Virology before these Canadian viruses were sent. U.S. embassy officials sent cables noting “a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.” These cables were sent a full year before Canada proceeded with its own deadly virus transfer to Wuhan.
We know, according to sources who spoke to The Globe and Mail, that the Public Health Agency revoked the security clearance for two scientists at the recommendation of CSIS. CSIS was focused on the people who Dr. Qiu was talking to in China and intellectual property that may have been given to Chinese authorities.
We know that two scientists involved in this transfer of deadly viruses were expelled a few months after that transfer, along with various Chinese students, for so-called “policy breaches”. They no longer work at the lab, although we still have no idea why.
We know as well about explicit connections between the Winnipeg lab and Chinese military researchers. For example, Feihu Yan, not one of the two scientists involved in the Ebola and Henipah transfer, came from the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Medical Sciences.
Military Medical Sciences should have triggered someone. It should have triggered an awareness that maybe something was going on. However, the person involved in the PLA Military Medical Sciences lab worked at the Winnipeg lab and even co-authored a number of papers, in which he directly identifies his simultaneous affiliation with the PLA academy and with the Winnipeg lab. In other words, this Chinese military scientist was hiding in plain sight. It seems that the government did not know or did not care that we had co-operation between a supposedly high-security Canadian lab and the Chinese military.
To summarize, we know that there was co-operation between Canada's only level-4 laboratory, a lab that is supposed to be so secret that most Canadian researchers cannot access it, and the Chinese military. We know that deadly viruses were transferred from Canada's only level-4 lab to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in spite of serious concerns about security protocols in Wuhan already raised by the Americans. We know that other people with Chinese military affiliations were working at the Winnipeg lab. We also know that the people responsible for the transfer of deadly viruses as well as others were subsequently expelled from the lab following the recommendation of CSIS.
We know, in general, that the Government of China runs vast operations that try to influence the direction of discussion at universities and gathers intellectual property that will advance its national interests. The leverage that is exerted on institutions of research through various associations and through threats to withdraw funding for students are well known and well established. Indeed, it is core to how the Government of China operates. It tries to use research partnerships with foreign countries to learn from and absorb technologies for both civilian and military applications, including for the horrific human rights abuses that are taking place in China as we speak.
We also know that the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan. On the face of it, it would seem like a very odd coincidence for a pandemic involving a novel coronavirus to emerge from the same area where gain-of-function experiments are being done on coronaviruses in a lab with known security deficiencies, yet to have had nothing to do with the lab in question.
The Chinese government's own more than usually aggressive secrecy around information about the origins of this virus clearly points to a cover-up. By now, many independent experts, including Dr. Fauci, have recognized the lab-leak theory is credible and requires further investigation.
The Liberals were calling the lab-leak theory a conspiracy theory until at least a couple weeks ago. Now the government has reversed its position and backed President Biden's efforts to get to the bottom of what happened. That reversal is a good step. However, if we are to get to the bottom of what has been happening in Chinese government-controlled and military-affiliated labs, then we also need to get to the bottom of the relationship that existed between military research in China and our own Winnipeg lab.
To the point about conspiracies, the lab-leak theory is not a conspiracy theory because it does not allege conspiracy. It does not suppose a conspiracy, rather it supposes incompetence. Just as there seems to have been severe bungling of security at the Winnipeg lab in failing to protect our research from espionage and pursuing inadvisable co-operation with the Chinese military, there may have been severe bungling at the Wuhan lab, leading to the leaking out of a novel virus that has now killed over three and a half million people.
Nobody in the House is suggesting that COVID-19 was manufactured in a Winnipeg lab or that coronaviruses were, at any point, transferred from Canada to China. However, we are questioning the level of co-operation in general that seems to have been taking place between Winnipeg and the various Chinese military-affiliated labs, including the one in Wuhan. We are asking these questions because everything we know so far points to severe naiveté and even wilful blindness on the part of the government when it comes to protecting biosecurity in Canada.
There is no conspiracy. The truth may be even more alarming, that the politicians who were supposed to be responsible for keeping us healthy and safe acted with supreme incompetence and showed no understanding of the risks associated with opening the door to Chinese military scientists and military institutions.
There are things that we know and there are things that we do not know, but now what has been done in the darkness must be brought to the light. Canadians must know about the extent to which Canadian research has contributed to dangerous experiments being conducted by the Chinese military. Canadians must know so they can hold their government accountable and insist on putting in place clear protocols that protect our security and our national interests, and that reduce the risk of catastrophic global pandemics in the future.
In March, the Canada-China committee heard testimony from Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, about this matter. The only useful testimony that we were able to glean from his appearance was that Canadian labs did not appear to conduct due diligence before they transferred deadly viruses to verify how the viruses were going to be used. Otherwise, he completely refused to answer questions.
Therefore, the committee passed two separate motions ordering PHAC to hand over documents. The committee did not insist on making these documents public. Recognizing the potential national security issues involved, the committee ordered the production of documents for in-camera review, but even then the agency refused to comply.
I am not surprised if these documents contain embarrassing information for the government, including information about serious security lapses. The fact is that in law, the government must hand over these documents. Parliamentary committees have an unfettered right to send for documents. This right is established in our Constitution and has primacy over statute law, and this right was recognized in the precedent-setting ruling of Speaker Peter Milliken.
The fact that committees have a right to summon these documents has been specifically supported by all the Liberal members of the Canada-China committee. In fact, the second motion ordering the production of these documents was proposed by the Liberal member for and passed unanimously by the committee.
At the time, the declared, respecting his own government's refusal to hand over the documents, “lawyers are not always right. Department of Justice lawyers are particularly...not always right.” He further stated, “I say that to caution the Public Health Agency of Canada to get a second opinion.... You need a second opinion, because I think the justice department is not giving you the best advice.”
The law is clear. The entire Liberal complement on the committee agrees that the government must disclose these documents. When it comes to document disclosure, it seems that we again have a case of the Liberals thinking that the law does not apply to them. It may be hard for the government to acknowledge the degree to which its incompetence has put both the safety and security of Canadians and Canadian research at risk.
Admitting they have a problem and disclosing all of the information is the first step to finding the solution that we need. Let us start the process of getting to the bottom of this. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let us see the documents so that we can fix the problem, hold the government accountable, and more importantly, ensure that these serious security lapses that endanger the health and safety of Canadians never happen again.
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion that deals with a very curious circumstance, to put it mildly, that largely started on March 31, 2019.
Before I describe what the circumstance is, it is important to give a little context around how this played out. A lot of Canadians may only hear about the National Microbiology Laboratory in passing, for example in government press releases. The National Microbiology Laboratory, or the NML, is actually a really important facility in Canada.
I grew up in Winnipeg. I started my career at the University of Manitoba, in the faculty of medicine, as well as in the intellectual property management office there. There is a lot of research that happens between the University of Manitoba and the National Microbiology Laboratory. It is very important research to Canada. A lot of the research that happened around the Ebola vaccine happened at this facility.
It is a very important resource for Canadian research. It also has something called a level 4 containment lab. That means it has the capacity for some of the world's most deadliest viruses to be safely held and researched.
What we are debating today is the fact that one of the researchers affiliated with the National Microbiology Laboratory, on March 31, 2019, coordinated a shipment of the Ebola and Henipah viruses. These are two very lethal and deadly viruses causing hemorrhagic fevers. That shipment was from the Public Health Agency of Canada to the Wuhan Institute of Virology via Winnipeg to Toronto to Beijing on a commercial Air Canada flight. That is something.
A few months later, on July 5, 2019, the researcher who did this, as well as her students, were escorted out of the lab by the Public Health Agency of Canada. This is a fairly pressing issue for Parliament to look at. What happened here?
I want to talk a little about the importance of research and how research happens. I do not want to give the impression that we do not have controls in place. Having worked in research administration in a prior life, which seems more and more distant by the day, there are usually protocols put in place whenever any sort of biological agent or material is transferred. There are actually agreements called material transfer agreements.
The reason why we need to find out what happened here is to find out whether or not the controls that we have in place in Canada are adequate or if they were followed in this situation. What happened? What was the result of it? Are our controls adequate? When we are talking about something like the Ebola virus, we would think that the public would want to know this information.
This is definitely something that Parliament should be seized with for the following reasons. Any time biological agents are transferred outside of Canada, or even within Canada, we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that process is ethical and that it follows ethical standards. I could spend 20 minutes just talking about what that means, in terms of international agreements and Canadian law. We have to make sure, frankly, that that stuff is not going to be weaponized.
We have to make sure that anybody who is allowed to work in these facilities is vetted in the most profound way and that they are screened to make sure they do not have affiliations with organizations that may not have Canada's best interests at heart. Even on a more commercial basis, we need to make sure that when materials are transferred, the intellectual property, any sort of new products or knowledge that come out of that research, is shared appropriately, according to Canadian and international law.
We need to find out what happened here. Clearly, something happened. Ebola was transferred by a researcher who was affiliated with the National Microbiology Laboratory, and then they were escorted out of the lab six months later. Then a bunch of other weird stuff sort of happened in that period of time.
One would think we should now be debating what happened and whether we need better controls, but what we are debating today is the fact that the Liberal government will not release the documents surrounding this incident, which is very concerning. The motion before us today, which the Liberals are frankly obstructing and which they obstructed at the health committee, compels the government to give parliamentarians information on what happened so we can evaluate whether processes were followed. My suspicion is that they were not. Subsequently, we can ensure that this never happens again.
The motion before the House would compel the government to put forward documents to the public for scrutiny, not just for Parliament to scrutinize but also the media. It is being blocked every step of the way. We have tried to do this multiple times through the parliamentary committee process. It is not just these documents that the Liberals are blocking. Colleagues on the health committee with me were being filibustered by the government on something as simple as a motion to get the agenda for the health committee.
There is an article in The Globe and Mail today about the Liberal government wanting to run the clock out on Parliament. By that, I mean it is obstructing everything so that Parliament will rise at the end of June with no answers on this. I know there is a lot of speculation about the potentially unilaterally calling an election in September. If nothing happened and everything is okay, why are these documents being blocked on something as serious as questions around the transfer of the Ebola virus? I have never seen something like this.
I used to work directly in academic research administration. There are a lot of very serious issues and concerns. Paperwork is put in place in order to hopefully ensure that bad things do not happen. If the system fails, we need to correct that. I have to say that I absolutely support international research collaboration, but it has to be done under a framework of safety and integrity. This motion comes at a time when Canada, frankly, has a very balkanized patchwork of rules and regulations among Canadian universities, our national research facilities, corporate research facilities and international research facilities. I do not think there is any political motivation or partisanship in saying that if a problem happened with this, we need to fix it and Parliament needs to put forward ways to do it.
There are a lot of questions in the world right now about what happened at the Wuhan lab on a lot of other issues. This issue is with regard to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Canada and a sample of the Ebola virus. We need to know what happened, where the system failed, whether an appropriate remedy was put in place, and whether we have the potential for this to happen again. I just cannot believe that we have to spend a day of debate to force the Liberals to produce documents that are owned by the public.
The public, taxpayers, voting citizens and every person in Canada has the right to know what happened so we can make sure that our processes for research are safe and integrous. This is the Ebola virus. To be clear, we should not be transferring any material without rules in place, but this is a level 4 pathogen. This is something that there should be absolute transparency on, and it is shocking to me that we are having to force this debate in the House.
If there is nothing to hide and everything is fine, why is the Liberal government delaying and obstructing the release of these documents related to the transfer of the Ebola virus to China at every step of the way?
I hope my Liberal colleagues will vote in favour of this motion. I hope they will talk to their folks in the government and say that we need to pass this motion, and I hope we can spend time in debate afterward talking about how to strengthen this system so that Canada can participate in research internationally without these types of concerns.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague, the member of Parliament for .
I am pleased to speak today about the importance of research that is so critical to the health and well-being of all Canadians as well as to our country's prosperity. Before I begin, I wish to first thank the residents of Vaughan—Woodbridge and York Region for their response to signing up and receiving the vaccine. As of today, nearly 73% of eligible York Region residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It has been fantastic work by everyone. I wish to encourage all residents to continue to sign up and to check for continual updates at york.ca and through my communications channels. Getting vaccinated is how we will exit the pandemic. Let us continue to make great progress together.
On another note, we were all shocked and saddened by the news of the mistreatment of indigenous children who were sent to residential schools and never able to return home to their families. The loss of these children, these innocent souls, is an insufferable loss for their families and the communities they were a part of. This is a tragic and shameful part of Canada's history. The news from the Kamloops Indian Residential School is truly unfathomable.
Returning to the opposition's motion, support for research has been central to Canada's domestic and international efforts to tackle COVID-19. Since the onset of the global pandemic, the Canadian research community has risen to the challenge at an unprecedented pace. Canada is fortunate to be home to some of the world's best and most innovative minds across academia and industry. They have come together in a concerted and collaborative response to advance urgent and impactful research.
Through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, or CIHR, our government has been working hand in hand with research partners across Canada and around the globe to find solutions to this pandemic and protect Canadians and their loved ones. As members may know, CIHR was the first government-funded agency in the world to launch an open call for COVID-19 research, in February 2020. In response to the emergence of the pandemic, CIHR quickly shifted its focus to the mobilization and acceleration of Canadian research on COVID-19. It did so while committing to a balanced portfolio of research into medical and social countermeasures against the pandemic and supporting the research community through pandemic disruptions. It was a remarkable pan-Canadian effort that continues to contribute invaluable evidence to inform and guide the health response to COVID-19 across the country.
Our government is proud to support Canadian research that has made, and continues to make, a real difference. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Canada's scientific leadership and expertise are also renowned worldwide. Our academic researchers, leaders in their field, have established strong and successful international networks, most notably with partners in the United States and Europe.
At the government level, we are also working closely with international global counterparts to optimize the impact of COVID-19 research for all. A global health threat, after all, requires global action, and collaboration has proved eminently valuable to mobilizing a rigorous scientific response since the earliest days of the pandemic. This is why we took rapid steps, in concert with global partners, to leverage existing international research partnerships and to forge impactful new collaborative measures.
For instance, on January 31, 2020, CIHR signed a joint statement with Wellcome and 65 other signatories to share research data and findings relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak. Shortly thereafter, CIHR played a leadership role in a forum convened by the World Health Organization, which informed the development of a coordinated global research road map.
Through CIHR, we are also participating in the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness: an international consortium of 29 research-funding organizations worldwide. This network plays an important role in facilitating preparedness and rapid-response research during significant infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19. In fact, it is a testament to Canada's scientific leadership that CIHR is currently chair of this international consortium. As pandemic research efforts and outputs accelerated through CIHR, our government signed a joint statement with international partners to make sure that data resulting from clinic trials was disclosed publicly and in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, the scientific director for CIHR's Institute of Population and Public Health led an international effort to identify and prioritize research needs for rebuilding in a post-pandemic era while safeguarding progress on the UN sustainable development goals. This vast collaborative effort resulted in the UN Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery, which was released in November 2020.
As we take sound action to rebuild a stronger, more prosperous and more resilient Canada, our government will further invest to strengthen international co-operation in science. We believe in science. This includes mobilizing for the prevention and response to future pandemics, as well as other emerging global health threats that may loom on the horizon.
It means leveraging the outputs of our international research collaborations to strengthen Canada's life sciences sector and revitalize our domestic capacity in biomanufacturing and medical innovation. International collaboration has been a critical element to the successful mobilization of both the Canadian and the global research communities long before the pandemic and in response to it.
Long-standing relationships with international partners forged in response to other health issues such as HIV/AIDS, antimicrobial resistance and dementia made the rapid research response to the pandemic possible.
Looking forward, we are encouraged by recent developments, such as efforts by the G7 to address gaps and improve the effectiveness of scientific co-operation, including in clinical trials. This includes addressing barriers and making clinical research more effective through better representation of diverse populations around the world, all while continuing to address our domestic needs and context.
Of paramount importance to the Canadian context is that we remain committed to supporting community-led, meaningful and culturally safe indigenous health research. Through CIHR's rapid response program—
Mr. Speaker, the research and co-operation of international research is obviously very important for me, for our government and for the world to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure our national security interests are afforded by and taken care of. We also have to ensure that we have international co-operation between all parties when considering intellectual property and issues of the like.
I thank the member for , Alberta, for his intervention, but I also wish to address that research and science are of fundamental importance to our government, unlike other governments in the past.
At a global level, we recognize that shared risks, like pandemics and climate change, require collective action. That is why yesterday the Government of Canada, through CIHR, launched a new framework for action on global health research that will mobilize Canadian research to achieve the greatest impact on health and health equity.
As we work to strengthen international research, we are also cognizant that safeguarding our investment in research, Canada's intellectual property on our large economy, is crucial. That is why, in collaboration with academia and industry, we are taking measures to identify and minimize security risks, protect data and disseminate best practices to the research community. For instance, in the fall, the government launched an online security portal to help scientists across the country assess their level of risk and protect their work. We are committed to vigilance and, with our partners, we will do what is necessary to protect Canadian innovation.
Although we are optimistic about the future and what we can accomplish through international co-operation in science, the foremost priority for Canadians remains a swift recovery from the pandemic. This includes addressing the immediate, as well as the potential long-term, impacts of COVID-19. As our knowledge of the pandemic evolves, along with Canadians' needs, the Government of Canada, through CIHR, continues to fund research to address gaps in priority areas of COVID-19 study.
Earlier this year, as part of the federal variants of concern strategy, CIHR once again mobilized the research community to respond to the COVID-19 variants emerging worldwide. This includes support for research coordination in Canada and with global partners to provide decision-makers with rapid guidance regarding drug therapy, vaccine effectiveness and our public health strategies.
We look forward to our continued collaboration with our domestic and international partners, including the WHO, on this important issue. We also continue to support the efforts of Canadian researchers, including those working with international colleagues to address other emergent areas of concern, such as post-COVID condition, also known as long COVID.
Canada's research response to COVID-19 is cutting-edge, focusing on the needs of peoples and communities across the country, while contributing to international efforts against a shared global health threat.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to participate in the debate on the Conservative motion. I am connecting to this virtual Parliament from Sault Ste. Marie, which is the traditional territory of the Garden River First Nation, Batchewana First Nation and the Métis people. I want to acknowledge that our hearts are very sad with the discovery of the 215 graves. We are committed to truth and reconciliation and will continue to move forward with it.
Science and research are more important than ever. As the global pandemic has made abundantly clear, science and research need to take centre stage to help us address economic, environmental and social challenges.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have mobilized Canadian researchers and life science companies to support large-scale efforts to combat COVID-19. As part of its more than $1 billon COVID-19 response fund, our government invested $217 million in coronavirus research and medical countermeasures to advance projects undertaken by university researchers and others.
We have also supported the mobilization of experts from Canada's scientific policy and health communities to launch CanCOVID. Hosted by the University of Toronto, this rapid response network connects researchers on different angles of the pandemic, from diagnostics to studying the impacts on vulnerable populations.
Expert advice from the research community and industry has been a key part of our response. The government relies on an evidence-based decision-making process in these and other areas.
For example, Canada's chief science advisor convenes committees of experts to assess the state of knowledge on key issues related to the pandemic. A vaccine task force was also created and comprised of vaccine, immunology experts and industry leaders to provide advice on Canada's vaccine strategy.
However, our commitment to science did not start with the pandemic. Since 2016, the government has committed more than $13 billion to support research and science across Canada. Building on these investments, budget 2021 represents more than $3 billion in new funding for Canadian researchers and scientists. This includes support for cutting-edge life science research, biotechnology and for national strategies on artificial intelligence, quantum and genomics.
This support recognizes the importance of science and research to address future challenges and as a key pillar of our economic growth strategy. This includes more than $440 million over 10 years to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy: $360 million over seven years to launch a national quantum strategy; and $400 million over six years to support a new pandemic genomics strategy. Each of these strategies will help advance key technological advantages for Canada and ensure we have strong communities of research, talent and commercial activity across this great nation.
The Government of Canada recognizes that Canadian innovators need our support to ensure our economic benefits from the enormous growth opportunities ahead. By leveraging our strengths and talent, we can ensure that Canadian values are embedded across widely used global technology platforms. Canadian scientists and entrepreneurs are well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities and Canada benefits from advances in these technologies through effective commercialization.
In addition, we recognize the importance of Canada's colleges in assisting small businesses to develop and adopt new technologies and processes. We know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. As we focus on recovery, we must help businesses seize new opportunities to innovate, grow and become more competitive. That is why budget 2021 proposes $52.6 million over two years through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the industrial research assistance program to support over 1,400 new collaborations between colleges and small businesses.
We have also learned of the importance of being better prepared for possible future pandemics. Strategic investments in cutting-edge life sciences, research and biotechnology are a critical part of that. These growing fields are not only essential to our safety, but they are fast-growing sectors that support well-paying jobs and attract new investments.
We will make investments that will help protect the health of Canadians in the future by setting aside almost $1 billion to strengthen Canada's biomanufacturing and life science sectors, including $500 million for the Canada Foundation for Innovation to support the bioscience capital and infrastructure needs of post-secondary institutions and research hospitals; $250 million for the federal research granting council to create a new tri-council biomedical research fund; and new investments in anti-microbiological resistance, to name a few.
The National Research Council is also working with partners across government to advance research and development for vaccines and therapies to prevent and treat the spread of COVID-19, in line with the best advice provided by the Government of Canada’s vaccine task force and therapeutics task force.
NRC’s industrial research assistance program is also working with Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to provide support to three innovative firms to scale up production facilities and increase Canada’s biomanufacturing capacity. Our continued success in science and innovation and in addressing global challenges to our well-being will come not only from domestic initiatives, but also from strong and sustained international collaboration.
Much has been achieved to date by Canadian researchers who are constantly working collaboratively across borders to achieve research excellence.
Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada is encouraging Canadian researchers to further collaborate with the world's best and to keep Canada at the forefront of science and innovation through investments in international research under the new frontiers in research fund. Through shared objectives and principles for international research collaboration, the federal research funding agencies are also strengthening Canada’s reputation as a valued partner in international research and innovation.
Interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, national and international collaborations continue to amplify the impacts of research on pandemic recovery and future resilience. To this end, Canada is working very closely with international platforms to facilitate global efforts in information sharing, research collaborations and knowledge mobilization, such as the United Nations Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery, the World Health Organization and the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness.
At the same time, we are witnessing new international threats to Canada’s research enterprises. For example, we are aware of new and evolving challenges to protect Canadian researchers’ intellectual property from actors that pose security threats or attempt to subvert rules and accepted norms.
Moving forward, we will continue to strive to find the balance between how best to sustain these international science, technology and innovation activities, while supporting our values like good global governance, freedom of science and valuing diversity, equality and inclusion in research in the face of these new challenges. This is happening from coast to coast to coast.
In northern Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie has a variety of international research happening at the local university and college through the Ontario Forest Research Institute, the Ontario Forest Research Institute and the MNR. In fact, we have some of the most Ph.D.s per capita in Canada, according to the local Economic Development Corporation. That research is happening all across Canada and in other places in northern Ontario, including the Experimental Lakes Area in Kenora, which recently received government funding to conduct very important research on water. It is attracting scientists from around the world. There are 60 lakes there and scientists from all over are coming. That collaboration continues as we finish our fight against COVID-19.
We are calling on all scientists and researchers to continue that kind of collaboration. This speech is evidence that we have put our money where our mouth is to support and finish this fight with such resources that will enable us to continue to do the great work. I think of some young entrepreneurs, three young ladies from North Bay, who are right now seeking IP protection, without saying too much about their product, on some ultraviolet processes that will sterilize and help with COVID-19.
The government is supporting a lot of research across Canada, and we need to continue to finish our fight against COVID-19.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to briefly come back to the Prime Minister's accusations of racism.
Let us remember one thing: Since the beginning of the debate on the problem at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, all the Prime Minister has been doing is accusing us of racism.
Every time the opposition raises an issue that deals with the Chinese Communist regime, as I did last week, the government calls us racist. As I speak, I am looking around to see whether the Prime Minister is going to stand up and accuse me of racism.
That is a serious problem. Using racism as an excuse is a really feeble defence. Racism has nothing to do with it. The Conservative Party has never attacked Chinese people. Our attacks have always been directed at the Chinese Communist regime, which is aggressive and dangerous. What we are saying has absolutely nothing to do with the people of China.
When we raise the issue of Huawei, we are accused of being racist. The Prime Minister never takes a strong stand with regard to the two Michaels, who were imprisoned on trumped-up charges. He even once said that he prefers a communist system to a democracy, which is very disturbing.
We ask questions in committee and in the House. We mostly ask questions in the House because this is where the Prime Minister answers our questions, when he feels like it, that is. This was his answer last time:
The rise in anti-Asian racism we have been seeing over the past number of months should be of concern to everyone. I would recommend that the members of the Conservative Party, in their zeal to make personal attacks, not start to push too far into intolerance towards Canadians of diverse origins.
Even The Globe and Mail said the Prime Minister's answer was a foolish thing to say.
This is not the first time the Prime Minister has called us racist. Let us not forget that, last year, early in the COVID-19 crisis, the opposition suggested it might be a good idea to cancel flights from China. What was the response? We were accused of being racist. It was not our fault the virus came from China. That is the reason we wanted to cancel flights from that country.
I know that racism is a delicate subject and that it is easy to lob such accusations. For our part, we always put public health and safety first, regardless of the origins of the virus.
Europe experienced a similar problem. Would anyone cry racism if we were speaking of European people and democracy? Absolutely not. The same is true in this case. If the problem came from Italy, we would be saying the same thing about banning flights. No matter where those flights came from, we would be saying the same thing.
The same thing applies to Huawei. We asked the government many questions in the House about Huawei's probable, possible, and indeed assured interference in our telecommunications system. Once again, we were accused of being racist.
We are not going to give up just because of the Prime Minister's accusations. We will persevere, because we are here to work on behalf of Canadian interests. This is why our motion includes the following:
That an order of the House do issue for the unredacted version of all documents produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada in response to the March 31, 2021, and May 10, 2021, orders of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, respecting the transfer of Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019, and the subsequent revocation of security clearances for, and termination of the employment of, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and Dr. Keding Cheng.
This is just one part of the problem that needs to be addressed.
The second problem is the following. In September 2020, the Prime Minister appointed Iain Stewart as president of the Public Health Agency of Canada. This appointment was pure and simple politics. The Prime Minister could have appointed any number of other Canadian men and women, but he chose to appoint Mr. Stewart.
Mr. Stewart recently appeared as a witness before the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, of which I am a member. He refused to provide relevant details about the security breach at the Winnipeg laboratory. The committee members requested unredacted versions of all the documents produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Mr. Stewart refused and continues to refuse to provide them. Just yesterday, we received redacted documents, despite the committee's clear demands.
The problem is not simple. On the one hand, Iain Stewart is the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada for the sole reason that he was appointed by the Prime Minister. On the other hand, this same gentleman is telling us that it is impossible to provide unredacted information about the dismissal of two scientists linked to the Chinese Communist regime and the revocation of their security clearance because that would be a disclosure of personal information, which is legally prohibited by the Privacy Act.
Mr. Stewart may be deliberately ignoring subparagraph 8(2)(m)(i) of the Privacy Act, which states:
Subject to any other Act of Parliament, personal information under the control of a government institution may be disclosed
(m) for any purpose where, in the opinion of the head of the institution,
(i) the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure,
In other words, the head of the institution, which could include the head of the laboratory, Iain Stewart, who is the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the or the , may disclose personal information if they decide that it would serve the public interest better to reveal the truth than to hide it. That is what the act says.
That said, neither the Prime Minister nor the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada have any legal grounds for doing what they are currently doing, which is hiding information.
Let us not forget that documents sent to the committee that may contain sensitive national security information must first be reviewed by certain officials before they are shared with members of Parliament. It is not up to the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada to censor documents as he is doing. That is the job of the law clerk of the House. The clerks have the authority to do this work and ensure that the documents submitted to members are properly protected pursuant to the rules of the House, not Iain Stewart's rules.
The question is whether Mr. Stewart is doing this on his own initiative. Did he decide that the information should not be shared with the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, or did the order come from the 's Office?
Is the Prime Minister too afraid that the truth will come out? If so, what does he have to fear?
This is our national security and our country. If information from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg has been passed on to Wuhan and, for example, the Chinese People's Liberation Army has used some viruses to develop others, we have a right to know.
If the members of the House of Commons do not have the most right to know, who does?
This is about Canada's national security and best interests. The Conservative Party and I are very aware that some information must remain secret to prevent other countries from gaining access to information that is critical to our own security. However, it is not true that all of the information regarding the National Microbiology Laboratory, and especially the information that was given to the Chinese Communist regime, should be kept secret. We have the right to know.
Our request is legitimate, and I believe that the opposition parties all agree with the Conservative Party of Canada that there is nothing racist about wanting to know what the Chinese Communist regime is up to. Canadians have the right to know what happened at the Winnipeg lab.
Mr. Speaker, Winston Churchill once said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.”
Appeasement is the diplomatic policy of making concessions to an aggressive power hoping to avoid a conflict. In Churchill’s time, he was referring to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement to Nazi Germany. Chamberlain’s ultimate act of appeasement was in ceding parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany under the 1938 Munich agreement in exchange for Hitler’s promise not to invade the rest of that country. However, in 1939, Hitler did just that.
In 1940, Chamberlain lost the confidence of the house, leading to the prime ministership of Winston Churchill.
Chamberlain emerged from history viewed as a weak, vacillating, indecisive and failed leader, so much so that Churchill quipped, “Poor Neville will come badly out of history.”
Today, as a matter of foreign policy, there can be no bigger challenge than our relationship with China. The litany of foreign policy errors when it comes to China by the is truly astonishing.
First, we had the national embarrassment in the aftermath of the arrest of Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou. Following the arrest, Canada’s ambassador to China and former Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum was unceremoniously fired. His embarrassing remarks included, among other things, how great it would be for Canada if the U.S. extradition request was just simply dropped, alleging that the intent of her arrest was to attempt to leverage trade concessions from China.
These statements completely undermined Canada’s defence of the arrest, namely that Canada is a rule of law country and politicians do not meddle in these sorts of things.
It is clear that when it comes to meddling in cases before the justice system, the Liberal government picks and chooses where it thinks it is appropriate to do so. That was evident when the tried to strong arm his then-minister of justice, the current member for , into interfering with the independent prosecutors over charges against SNC Lavalin.
It is no wonder that when we said that Canada was a rule of law nation and that there was nothing the could do in the Wanzhou case, that the Chinese government simply did not believe us.
The actions of the Prime Minister and the then ambassador seriously weakened our credibility. In retaliation for the arrest of Wanzhou, China did two things. It blocked imports of Canadian canola, pork and beef, hurting our farmers and our agriculture industry, and it arbitrarily arrested and detained Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Those two Canadians remain imprisoned still today.
Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws of the Panda, said:
I think this has to be a lesson that you can’t deal with China like any other country that abides by the law and diplomatic norms. And in that respect, we’ve been a bit naive in the past.
The reality is that China is not a friendly regime. Frankly, no better evidence of this exists than the arbitrary detention and trials of the two Michaels. Canada has been completely unable thus far to bring this matter to a positive conclusion in part because our credibility as a nation of laws was weakened by the actions of the in the SNC Lavalin affair.
Then came the revelation that our military had decided to cancel training with the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 2019. I am really not sure who thought this was a good idea in the first place. In retrospect, this seems to be the obvious decision, and yet Global Affairs Canada actually pushed back against the military decision to cancel this in an apparent act of appeasement regarding the two Michaels.
Additionally, while most countries have recognized the perils of doing business with Huawei, the simply will not rule it out.
As well, serious concerns have been expressed about Canadian universities’ co-operation with the Chinese government on research projects. These concerns range from potential disclosure of intellectual property to national security concerns. Again, no action has been take by the Liberal government.
As if this were not all enough for the to be on the highest alert in looking out for Canada's national security interests, now comes the issue at hand in today’s motion.
In a May 20, Globe and Mail article, there was the revelation that scientists working in Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab had been collaborating with Chinese military researchers to study and experiment on deadly pathogens.
This is a lab that works with some of the most infectious diseases on the planet. The security of not only the dangerous physical contents of the lab, but the highly sensitive information regarding its activities should be paramount and of the utmost importance. One of the scientists who co-authored some of the studies on this collaboration was reportedly from the People's Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, an obvious red flag, to be sure, if there ever was one.
Even the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has stated that the risk of collaboration with the People's Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences is a “very high risk”.
As if that were not enough, in January of this year, two of the scientists at the Winnipeg lab were fired and escorted out of work by the RCMP after CSIS recommended that their security clearances be revoked on “national security grounds”. CSIS expressed concern over the nature of information being passed on to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Andy Ellis, a former CSIS assistant director, has called all this “madness”, saying it is “ill-advised” and classified the actions of the Public Health Agency of Canada for co-operating with the People's Liberation Army as “incredible naïvete”.
It is incredibly alarming to see the continuously stonewalling questions on this matter. When asked in question period, we kept hearing answers from the minister stating “we are not at liberty to provide any more details at this point.” That just does not cut it. Canadians deserve answers, especially when it comes to matters as serious as these, matters that affect our country's national security.
It should go without saying that Canadians should be rightly concerned when scientists at the top lab in the country are being fired for national security reasons and escorted out by the RCMP. We have government scientists closely collaborating with scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and China’s military, including shipping dangerous Ebola and Henipah viruses to Wuhan. Does the Canadian public not have a right to know what the extent of that co-operation was?
How does a military scientist from the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences get granted access to work at Canada's National Microbiology Lab anyway?
I have received many questions from members of my community about these issues, as I am sure other members have, and we are trying to get them answers.
It is the duty of the federal government to protect national security and the safety and security of Canadians. By refusing to be transparent and provide answers to these important questions, the government has failed to assure Canadians that it has upheld this duty.
It is the duty of members of the House of Commons and its committees to hold the government to account by investigating and ordering the production of documents. The Special Committee on Canada-China Relations has tried to get this information, but the Public Health Agency of Canada heavily redacted documents and failed to comply with the request of the committee.
That is why we have introduced this motion today, to order the government to produce these documents. Members of that committee have sought to use this power responsibly and in a way that protects national security. This is evident in the motions adopted by the committee on March 31 and May 10, as well as today’s motion, which have been worded to protect national security by having the law clerk review them first.
The government’s repeated refusal to comply with the committee’s orders to produce documents is troubling and continues to raise very serious questions.
The optimistic heady days of “sunny ways” have quickly given way to a cloudy haze. I recall when the proudly proclaimed, “We will make information more accessible requiring transparency to be a fundamental principle.” Apparently when it comes to the Prime Minister’s well-known admiration for China’s dictatorship, transparency becomes invisible.
Given the ’s naive and appeasing posture toward the Chinese government, it appears, as Churchill said, that the crocodile may eat us last.
Mr. Speaker, in the question that was just posed I saw the Conservative opposition members being a little defensive realizing that oops, maybe once again, they are missing the boat on a very important fact. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they are genuinely concerned and completely overlook a committee that was established in order to deal with things of this nature. On the other hand, when that is being suggested to them, they say that is not good enough, they want to make it more political. That is really what the member for is trying to say.
The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians has representatives from all political parties and they have a certain security clearance. Everything that the Conservative members are trying to achieve today could be achieved through that committee. However, the Conservatives have a problem with that, because for them, the issue is not what is in the public's best interests, it is what is in the Conservative Party's best political interests.
We have seen that repeatedly. We can go back to last summer and remember the thousands and thousands of papers that were provided to a standing committee. At a time when Canada was in the midst of a pandemic, the Conservative Party of Canada wanted to focus its attention on diverting health care professionals within Health Canada to provide papers and to appear before committee. If I believed for a moment that it had nothing to do with the partisan politics of the Conservative Party, I would be a little more sympathetic.
Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory is a secure facility. We all know that. Everyone working at and visiting the microbiology laboratory must undergo security screening and adhere to strict security protocols and policies. I had the opportunity to drive by the lab on Arlington Street on many occasions and it sits there in isolation. One gets the impression that there are important things that the federal government is doing in that facility. This government, more so than Stephen Harper, invests in science and supports our labs. I think that has been clearly demonstrated.
If we read through the resolution for the opposition day, two things come to my mind: One, is yes, there is a lot of detail and again they are asking for papers and again they are trying to have it go to a committee and again they want to get another minister, the , who has been answering questions during question period virtually every day now. They want that special committee to deal with it.
That is the one thing that comes to my mind in reading it and that is the most obvious. When I first read it, the first thing that came to my mind was that the legislation we passed a number of years ago that we asked the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to bring in. We have the Five Eyes countries and Canada was the only one out of the Five Eyes that did not have a national security and intelligence committee per se. We established that.
As some of the Conservative members will point out, there is a different reporting mechanism but there are members of the Conservative Party who are on that committee. Within that committee they do have the ability to look into the matter at hand and maintain confidence and provide ideas and recommendations and they have done some fine work in the past.
My first thought in reading this motion was this: Has the Conservative Party given any thought in regard to that committee? Based on the two questions, I now understand why the Conservatives do not want to go to that committee. It is because it is not political enough.
The other thing I find amazing is that here we have a limited number of opposition days and Canadians are thinking of the pandemic and things such as the vaccines, we just tabled billions and billions of dollars being spent in a budget, and this is what the Conservative Party has chosen. I do not think the Conservative Party is in tune with what is happening in the real world or sensitive to what Canadians want us to be talking about.
I see that my time is expiring, so I will be able to continue on, possibly after question period.