The Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, said the federal attempts to protect documents related to the dismissal of the two scientists violated parliamentary privileges and must be expelled from court.
In a notice of motion submitted to the Federal Court on Thursday, Rota stated that the House of Representatives-by virtue of its parliamentary privileges-has the right to demand “personnel, documents and records” that it considers necessary to perform its functions.
“This kind of constitutional power is the foundation of our parliamentary democratic system, and it is also the basis for the parliament to play a key role as a’national investigation’ and to hold government executives accountable,” Rota’s notice said.
The document added that the executive and judicial departments have no right to challenge, veto, modify, control or review the exercise of this privilege by the House of Representatives.
“Under our democratic government system, the House of Representatives has unconstrained discretion and authority in exercising this power. The opposite decision will be inconsistent with the basic characteristics of the Canadian Parliament’s democracy and separation of powers,” it said.
“Only the parliament itself has the right to abolish, modify or restrict its parliamentary privileges.”
Last month, the Liberal government asked the court to confirm the prohibition on the disclosure of records of the dismissal of two scientists from Canada’s highest security laboratory.
The move came shortly after Rota rebuked Iain Stewart, Director of the Public Health Agency of Canada, for repeatedly refusing to provide unedited documents to members of the Canada-China Relations Committee.
Stewart recommended in a notice under the Canadian Evidence Act that if the document is submitted to the committee, sensitive or potentially harmful information will be disclosed.
After considering the notice, the attorney general filed a court application requesting an order to confirm that the documents should be kept confidential.
Scientists escorted out of Winnipeg laboratory
The opposition parties joined forces to obtain these documents, hoping that they could explain why the scientist Qiu Xiangguo and her husband Cheng Keding were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019, and were subsequently fired in January last year.
They also sought documents related to the transfer of the deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China in March 2019 under Qiu’s supervision.
Attorney General and Attorney General David Lametti said last month that the decision to apply to the court was made by judicial officials in accordance with the Canadian Evidence Act.
“Those officials are complying with the law,” Rametti said. “PHAC is complying with the law.”
Rota’s notice of motion stated that Parliament has stated that it has no intention of modifying or restricting its privileges to pass parts of the Canadian Evidence Law.
The speaker believes that the attorney general’s application “tryes to get the court to go beyond the scope of its legal activities and interfere with the exclusive jurisdiction of the House of Representatives to exercise its privileges.”
The notice stated that the court lacked constitutional jurisdiction to do so and therefore should reject the application.
The Attorney General has not yet responded and has not set a date for hearing Rota’s motion.