Iain Stewart to step down as head of Public Health Agency of Canada

Iain Stewart is out as head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, replaced by Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar, currently an assistant deputy minister of health.

Stewart had been publicly reprimanded by MPs as part of effort to secure documents

Iain Stewart will leave his role as president of the Public Health Agency of Canada next week. He's being replaced by Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar, who is currently an associate deputy minister of health. (National Research Council/Twitter)

Iain Stewart is out as president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, after leading the agency through much of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stewart was also the focus of an extraordinary moment in parliamentary history earlier this year, when he was publicly admonished by MPs in the House of Commons for failing to turn over documents related to the firing of two scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Stewart will return to being president of the National Research Council of Canada, a role he previously held. Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar, currently an associate deputy minister of health, will replace Stewart starting next week.

Kochhar, a veterinarian by training, has served in a variety of senior roles in the public service, including as Canada's Chief Veterinary Officer and as associate vice-president of operations at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

In a news release on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Stewart and "recognized his leadership in successfully implementing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout."

Stewart joined PHAC from his previous role as president of the research council after his predecessor, Tina Namiesniowski, stepped down as president of PHAC in September 2020.

Stewart, right, approaches the bar in the House of Commons to be admonished by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, in Ottawa on June 21, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In June 2021, he was called to appear before the bar in the House of Commons, a procedure not used against a civilian for nearly a century and intended to publicly shame a person who has committed "an offence against the dignity or authority of Parliament."

Stewart, citing privacy and security concerns also put forward by Health Minister Patty Hajdu, refused to provide unredacted documents related to the firing of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her biologist husband, Keding Cheng, who were escorted off the premises in 2019 and officially fired in January of this year.

That question eventually wound up in court, but the case was discontinued shortly after the election call in August.

Stewart was also head of PHAC during a continuing controversy over the role of Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin as head of Canada's vaccine task force. Fortin recently argued in court he should be reinstated in a job reflecting his rank. He was removed from the task force after being accused of sexual assault tied to an alleged incident decades ago and subsequently charged. Fortin denies the accusations.

The move to replace Stewart as head of PHAC was part of a wider shuffle of senior public servants announced Friday.

With files from CBC News