Saskatoon StarPhoenix


PHAC president target of scolding in Commons


OTTAWA • The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada was admonished in the House of Commons Monday — a rebuke not witnessed in more than 100 years — but continued to refuse to provide classified documents about the firing of two scientists at Canada's highest security infectious diseases lab.

At exactly 3:22 p.m., PHAC president Iain Stewart slowly walked out of the lobby of the House of Commons to stand in front of the bar — literally a brass bar near the main entrance of the House that only MPS are allowed to pass. His hands were devoid of any documents.

Stewart removed his mask and clasped his hands behind his back, and the Speaker of the House Anthony Rota read out an admonishme­nt, reminding the bureaucrat that his agency had failed to produce unredacted documents demanded by a majority of MPS, all from opposition parties.

He was responding to an order to appear in front of the House of Commons to be admonished because his agency had been found in contempt of Parliament for withholdin­g documents that might explain why scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng were fired from Winnipeg's National Microbiolo­gy Laboratory earlier this year.

“The House has the power, and indeed the duty, to reaffirm them when obstructio­n or interferen­ce impedes with its deliberati­ons. As guardian of these rights and privileges, that is precisely what the House has asked me to do today by ordering the Speaker to reprimand you for the Public Health Agency of Canada's contempt in refusing to submit the required documents,” Rota read.

Rota then informed parliament­arians that Stewart's counsel had written by letter that he was still “unable” to deliver the documents in question. But the proceeding­s were first delayed when Rota informed MPS that the letter was only in English, at which point a parliament­arian refused for it to be tabled unanimousl­y unless it was translated to French.

That is when the first war of words began between opposition parties and the few Liberal MPS physically present in the House of Commons, with insults being lobbied from each side of the room to the other (including some rather unparliame­ntary language). Stewart still stood silently at the bar, though occasional­ly pulling out his Blackberry device to glance at it quickly.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez then proposed a compromise, offering to hand over the documents to the Commons law clerk so he could examine them, as long as he was accompanie­d by national security officials who could determine which informatio­n, if published, could threaten Canada's national security.

“This could include tradecraft and investigat­ive techniques, including put at risk human sources and their families. identifyin­g or helping to identify employees, internal procedures and administra­tive practices, and finally, it can have a severe impact on Canada's reputation as a responsibl­e security partner,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez also offered that parties strike an ad hoc committee formed of MPS who would swear an oath of confidence in exchange for the unredacted documents.

Conservati­ve House Leader Gérard Deltell was not impressed by Rodriguez's offer and concerns.

“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Stewart was here and he did not deliver what we were asking for. This is why we are here talking about (parliament­ary) privilege,” Deltell replied. “The order of the House asked for two things: that Mr. Stewart come to the House to receive an admonishme­nt, which he did, and that he table the documents, which he did not.”

Nearly half an hour after first appearing at the bar, Stewart was finally allowed by the House of Commons to leave after a second unanimous motion to release him passed.

The first motion to dismiss him, brought forward by the Liberals roughly five minutes earlier, was denied by opposition MPS, which elicited a strong protest from Liberal MP Brian May attending virtually.

“I want to remind him that his face does show up when he speaks online," Rota said of May. "I don't want to embarrass him, but I think that there's enough tension in this room, we don't need it coming in."

“Mr. May, please stand down,” Rota growled much more forcefully as May continued to speak.

After Stewart's departure, the Conservati­ves then proposed that Rota ask the sergeant-at-arms search PHAC'S offices and retrieve the requested documents for parliament­arians. The proposal was quickly supported by the NDP.


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 ?? SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, approaches the bar in the House of Commons
to be admonished by the Speaker of the House Anthony Rota on Parliament Hill on Monday.
SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, approaches the bar in the House of Commons to be admonished by the Speaker of the House Anthony Rota on Parliament Hill on Monday.

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