Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole takes questions from the media during a press conference in downtown St. John’s, Monday, July 26, 2021. O’Toole is seeking to intervene in a Federal Court case where the Liberal government is trying to shield documents related to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s highest-security laboratory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole takes questions from the media during a press conference in downtown St. John’s, Monday, July 26, 2021. O’Toole is seeking to intervene in a Federal Court case where the Liberal government is trying to shield documents related to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s highest-security laboratory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

O’Toole seeks intervener status in government’s court battle to shield lab documents

Speaker Anthony Rota has filed a motion to strike the court action

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is seeking to intervene in a Federal Court case where the Liberal government is trying to shield documents related to the firing of two scientists from Canada’s highest-security laboratory.

O’Toole’s lawyer has filed a letter with the court saying the leader of the official Opposition has a significant interest and distinct perspective on the underlying issues raised by the case.

The Liberal government asked the court last month to affirm a prohibition on disclosure of records concerning the dismissal of Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, from Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory.

Speaker Anthony Rota has filed a motion to strike the court action, saying the House of Commons has the power to request the “persons, papers and records” it deems necessary for its functions.

O’Toole says in a statement he is taking the “necessary steps” to challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in court and end the “coverup” of the Winnipeg lab documents.

Trudeau is expected to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament on Sunday, triggering an election campaign, and O’Toole says if he becomes prime minister he will release the documents in his first 100 days.

“I will not stand by while Justin Trudeau’s corrupt Liberal government undermines the supremacy of Parliament, and the right of Canadians to know the extent to which the federal government was partnering with scientists associated with the Chinese military,” he says.

The federal government filed the court case in June shortly after Rota reprimanded Public Health Agency of Canada head Iain Stewart over his repeated refusal to provide the unredacted documents to MPs on the Canada-China relations committee.

Stewart has advised the attorney general in a notice under the Canada Evidence Act that sensitive or potentially injurious information would be revealed should the documents be given to the committee.

After considering the notice, the attorney general filed a court application requesting an order confirming the documents should remain under wraps.

Opposition parties have joined forces to demand the documents in hope that they’ll shed light on why scientists Qiu and Cheng were escorted out of the lab July 2019 and subsequently fired last January.

They also seek documents related to the transfer, overseen by Qiu, of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.

The letter from O’Toole’s lawyer says if intervener status is granted, O’Toole will make submissions to the court on various issues including the unique scope of parliamentary privilege and its evolution in the courts.

He will also speak to the role of Parliament in Canada’s constitutional structure and its unfettered discretion to call on individuals and request documents “to conduct the business of the nation,” the letter says.

It adds O’Toole’s submissions will focus on “the real and substantial risks to our democratic processes and to future Parliaments, governments, and opposition members if the scope of these privileges are abrogated, interfered with, or unduly constrained.”

A hearing on Rota’s motion to strike has been scheduled for Sept. 16 and 17. O’Toole’s lawyer is requesting a case conference for the court to deal with his motion to intervene.

The Canadian Press

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