Connect with us
[the_ad id="89560"]


Tories urged to reconsider compromise on documents about fired scientists


7 minute read

OTTAWA — Government House leader Mark Holland is urging the Conservatives to reconsider their rejection of a compromise proposal that would allow MPs to finally see unredacted documents related to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s highest-security laboratory.

In a letter Tuesday to his Conservative counterpart, Gerard Deltell, Holland reiterates his proposal to allow a special all-party, security-cleared committee to review all the documents, aided by three former senior judges who would decide whether or how any disputed material could be released publicly without jeopardizing national security.

He cites articles by several experts who’ve recently backed the government’s contention that Canada’s national security would be harmed by complying with opposition demands that the documents be turned over to a regular committee of MPs.

Under a House of Commons order passed by opposition parties last spring over the objections of the Liberal minority government, the documents would be vetted by the parliamentary law clerk for potential national security issues but committee members would retain the right to release whatever material they chose.

In his letter, Holland urges Deltell to read a recent article in the Globe and Mail penned by Michael Kergin, former ambassador to the United States, and two former senior officials in the Privy Council Office, Greg Fyffe and Jim Mitchell.

In it, the trio argued that prolonging the dispute over the documents “could be damaging for Canada’s intelligence and security agencies.”

They wrote that the release of information that appears innocuous could actually wind up “unmasking” foreign sources and could be “a gift to hostile intelligence powers.” It could also deter potential sources from sharing information for fear they could be identified.

Moreover, if the government were to lose control over the release of sensitive information, the trio argued that would violate Canada’s obligations to its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners, with whom sensitive information is shared under strict confidentiality conditions.

Canada’s intelligence relationship with the U.S. in particular “would also be gravely undermined by any loss of confidence in the government’s ability to safeguard its sensitive information,” they wrote.

Holland notes in his letter that the three experts backed his compromise proposal, which he calls reasonable and responsible.

“It acknowledges your fair and right request to be able to see all documents unredacted and recognizes the power of the House to order such documents. Our proposal does this without endangering our national security,” Holland says.

He cites another recent article penned by national security experts Leah West and Stephanie Carvin at Carleton University and Thomas Juneau at the University of Ottawa, in which the academics argue that all parties need to come together to agree on a process for Parliament to review classified documents.

The Conservatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Holland’s letter.

While the Tories have flatly rejected Holland’s compromise proposal, the Bloc Québécois and NDP have not categorically ruled it out.

“I know they’re considering it,” Holland said in an interview Tuesday.

Opposition parties believe the documents will shed light on why scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 and subsequently fired last January.

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

Just before Christmas, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole announced that he will not name any Tory MPs to the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, known as NSICOP, until the wraps are taken off the documents.

In his letter, Holland urges Conservatives to reconsider that decision as well, arguing that NSICOP has been “a model of collaboration” where “partisan interests are not placed ahead of national security.”

NSICOP was created in 2017 specifically to allow MPs to review sensitive matters. It submits classified reports to the prime minister, which are later tabled in Parliament in edited form. Its members must have top security clearance and are bound to secrecy.

“To not participate in this essential oversight mechanism is to weaken its essential function,” Holland writes.

The battle over the documents has dragged on for a year, culminating in June with the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada being hauled before the bar of the House to be reprimanded for his refusal to hand them over.

After that, the government applied to the Federal Court of Canada to prohibit release of the documents on the grounds that disclosure would be “injurious to international relations or national defence or national security.” The case was dropped after an election was called in August, which terminated the House order to produce the documents, along with all other business before the Commons.

The Conservatives have vowed to continue pursuing the matter in the new parliamentary session.

Holland said it’s “extremely important” to find a resolution that respects the right of parliamentarians to see documents without jeopardizing national security and to have “broad public trust” that there’s a fair process for achieving that balance.

“I don’t think it’s healthy to leave these matters out there,” he said in an interview.

“The Conservatives have been in government and might be in government again one day and will have to face these same issues. And so I’m hopeful that they’ll take a look at it through the lens of precedent that they would be establishing with the position they’re taking and how injurious it could be to national security.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

Follow Author


Blinken: US to leverage Russia-Ukraine bloc against China

Published on

By Matthew Lee in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday the Biden administration aims to lead the international bloc opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what it sees as a more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.

In a speech outlining the administration’s China policy, Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach to competing with Beijing in a race to define the 21st century’s economic and military balance.

While the U.S. sees Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as the most acute and immediate threat to international stability, Blinken said the administration believes China poses a greater danger.

“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order — and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said.

“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order — and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” he said. “Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”

Thus, Blinken laid out principles for the administration to marshal its resources, friends and allies to push back on increasing Chinese assertiveness around the world. Although he made clear that the U.S. does not seek to change China’s political system, rather it wants to offer a tested alternative.

“This is not about forcing countries to choose, it’s about giving them a choice,” he said.

However, he also acknowledged that the U.S. has limited ability to directly influence China’s intentions and ambitions and will instead focus on shaping the strategic environment around China.

“We can’t rely on Beijing to change its trajectory,” Blinken said in the speech, delivered at George Washington University. “So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”

The speech followed President Joe Biden’s just-concluded visits to South Korea and Japan, where China loomed large in discussions. Biden raised eyebrows during that trip when he said that the United States would act militarily to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an invasion by China, which regards the island as a renegade province.

The administration scrambled to insist that Biden was not changing American policy, and Blinken restated that the U.S. has not changed its position. Blinken said Washington still holds to its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows for unofficial links with and arms sales to Taipei.

“Our approach has been consistent across decades and administrations. The United States remains committed to our ‘One China’ policy. We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side,” he said, adding that “we do not support Taiwan independence.”

Blinken said that while U.S. policy on Taiwan has remained consistent, China’s had become increasingly belligerent.

He made the case that the global response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine can serve as a template for dealing with China’s efforts to mold a new and unpredictable world order to replace the rules and institutions that have guided relations between states since the end of World War II.

China, Blinken said, has benefited greatly from that international order but is now trying to subvert it under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.

“Rather than using its power to reinforce and revitalize the laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that enabled its success, so other countries can benefit from them, too, Beijing is undermining it,” Blinken said. “Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”

Yet, Blinken also decried the rise in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, saying Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans have the same claim to the U.S. as any other immigrants or their descendants.

Investment in domestic U.S. infrastructure and technology along with stepping up diplomatic outreach to potentially vulnerable countries are other elements of the policy and are key to the U.S. approach, Blinken said.

In the latest manifestation of China’s push to expand its reach that has drawn concern from the U.S. and other democracies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday began an eight-nation tour of Pacific islands during which Beijing hopes to strike a sweeping agreement that covers everything from security to fisheries.

Wang opened his tour in the Solomon Islands, which last month signed a security cooperation pact with China that some fear could lead to a Chinese military presence there. The agreement was finalized shortly after the Biden administration announced it would open a U.S. embassy in the Solomons as part of its efforts to engage in the greater Indo-Pacific region.

The Biden administration has largely kept in place confrontational policies toward China adopted by its predecessor in response to Chinese actions in its western Xinjiang region, Hong Kong, Tibet and the South China Sea.

And, while the administration sees areas for working with Beijing, such as combatting climate change, it will not trade cooperation for compromising on its principles regarding human rights and rule of law, Blinken said.

Continue Reading


Police face questions over delays in storming Texas school

Published on

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed an Uvalde elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

Investigators were also unable to say with any certainty whether an armed school district security officer outside Robb Elementary exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, when he first arrived on Tuesday.

The motive for the rampage — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, which ended when a Border Patrol team burst in and shot Ramo to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside his house, across the street from the school.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

But a department spokesman said later that authorities could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside.

Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”

“They were unprepared,” he added.

Carranza had watched as Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured.

Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN that the school security officer outside was armed and that initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunfire. “But right now we’re trying to corroborate that information,” Olivarez said.

After entering the school, Ramos barricaded himself in a classroom and began to kill.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.

“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.

On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.

Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared.

Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.

Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.

Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.

Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.

Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.

But that night, her niece had a question.

“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”


Bleiberg reported from Dallas.


More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

Jake Bleiberg, Jim Vertuno And Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press

Continue Reading