PHAC head says Privacy Act prevents explanation for firing of two scientists

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OTTAWA — The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada is refusing to explain why two Canadian government scientists were let go 18 months after being escorted from Canada's highest-security laboratory.

Iain Stewart had been given a deadline of today to provide an explanation to members of a House of Commons committee for why PHAC terminated the employment of Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, in January.

He has instead sent the MPs a letter saying that the Privacy Act does not allow him to share "employment or labour-relations matters concerning public servants."

Moreover, he says questions about an RCMP investigation into the two scientists should be directed to the Mounties.

The pair were escorted out of the National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 over what was described at the time as a possible policy breach and administrative matter.

Conservative and Bloc Québécois members of the committee are demanding an emergency meeting next week, at which Conservative MP Garnett Genuis says he will introduce a motion to compel PHAC to turn over all documents related to the matter, without any redactions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2021.

The Canadian Press