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Liberal-dominated committee nixes Conservative push for hearings on lab security lapses

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OTTAWA -

A Liberal-dominated House committee declined Monday to vote on a Conservative request to delve into the activities of two scientists who were fired from a high-security lab over their dealings with China.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong had asked the House of Commons committee on information, privacy and ethics to call various witnesses, including representatives of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

However, Liberal and New Democrat MPs carried a 6-4 vote to end debate on the motion.

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid had told committee members that hearings were unnecessary and would fall outside the committee's mandate.

After the vote, Chong accused the Liberals of perpetuating a coverup with the help of the NDP.

"It's time for Parliament to step up and hold the government accountable," he said in a statement.

More than 600 pages of internal reports and correspondence about the security matter were made public last week, with some redactions, after a special all-party review by an ad hoc committee of MPs.

The documents show two scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory were fired in early 2021 after reviews found they failed to protect sensitive assets and information.

The scientists, Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, played down their collaborations with Chinese government agencies, the records say.

The documents also show the Canadian Security Intelligence Service concluded that Qiu repeatedly lied about the extent of her work with institutions of the Chinese government, and that she refused to admit involvement in various Chinese programs even when evidence was presented to her.

Chong told the committee Monday that hearings are needed to examine the flow of information and intelligence within the government to determine why Qiu's activities were not noticed sooner.

In addition, Chong told the MPs, hearings would help unravel why it took years for the documents related to the firings to be made public.

In May last year, the federal government said three former senior judges would have the final say on the public disclosure of the records, to be reviewed by an ad hoc committee of MPs in a secure setting.

The Conservatives initially rejected the proposal, preferring that the records be turned over to a regular committee of MPs.

Under a House of Commons order passed by opposition parties in 2021 -- over the objections of the government -- the documents would have been vetted by the parliamentary law clerk for potential national security issues. However, committee members would have retained the right to release whatever material they chose.

Khalid, who was a member of the ad hoc committee that ended up reviewing the documents, defended the process Monday.

"There was no coverup," she said.

"We did important work over the course of many, many months to get to the bottom of this."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2024.

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