This week, Canada’s federal Liberal government decided to hand over confidential documents on the dismissal of Chinese-born virologists Qiu Xiangguo and his wife to a special committee of multi-party members of Parliament. This means that the details of the sensational but confusing case may finally be open to the public.
(Photo credit: The Globe and Mail)
According to the Globe and Mail, a local English-language media outlet, Qiu Xiangguo is one of Canada’s leading virologists. She and her husband, Cheng Keting, worked for many years at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) of Canada in Winnipeg. In 2019, Qiu Xiangguo was allegedly sent samples of Ebola and Heneba viruses, considered the world’s deadliest pathogens, to the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research, and was investigated by the RCMP commissioned by the Public Health Agency of Canada, after which she and her husband were both suspended. in January 2021, both were officially dismissed from the lab.
The case caused a stir in Canada, but the circumstances of the case are so confusing that authorities have disclosed only a few details. Repeated requests by Congress for the Public Health Service to provide unredacted information about the reasons for the dismissal of Qiu Xiangguo and Cheng Keding, as well as details about the two deadly viruses being sent to Wuhan, were denied on the grounds that the documents were confidential and could harm Canada’s interests if leaked.
Before the last election, the opposition parties had spared no effort in pressuring the Trudeau Jr. Liberal government on the matter. In June, the three major opposition parties in Parliament, including the Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc Québécois, even joined forces and passed a motion by 176 votes to 150 to declare the Public Health Agency of Canada in “contempt of Parliament”. The Liberal government broke ranks and took the Speaker of the House of Commons to court to prevent the release of the document.
But this unprecedented lawsuit did not last. Shortly afterwards, the government’s lawsuit was withdrawn after a general election was called and Parliament was dissolved.
The Conservative Party did not intend to give up. During the election, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole made a promise to release information about the case within 100 days if elected prime minister.
After O’Toole’s victory, O’Toole filed a federal court application to intervene in a lawsuit over the sackings of Khoo Heung Kheow and Seng Khee Teng to force the Liberal government to release relevant documents.
The opposition parties finally made Trudeau Jr. give in. On Thursday (Dec. 2), the federal government said it was willing to hand over the documents to a special parliamentary committee. The committee will consist of two members (one full member and one alternate) from each of the four major parties in Parliament – the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats. They will be subject to thorough security checks and will read documents, both revised and unmodified versions, in a confidential facility. A number of security-checked civil servants without any party affiliation will assist them.
An arbitration panel of three former senior judges will be selected to adjudicate on what in the documents can be disclosed to Congress and the public, should a dispute arise within the committee members. The panel would consider whether to disclose some, summary, redacted, or even all of the documents without compromising national security, national defense, or international relations.