Conservatives urge Commons to declare Chinese human rights abuses a genocide

The Conservatives are demanding that Canada join allies like the U.S. and formally declare the continued oppression of Uighur Muslims in China a genocide.

China has been accused of using forced birth control on Uighurs

People wearing masks stand during a rally to show support for Uighurs and their fight for human rights in Hong Kong on Dec. 22, 2019. The Conservatives are calling for the House of Commons to formally declare crimes against minority Muslims in China a genocide. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

The Conservatives are demanding that Canada join allies like the U.S. and formally declare the continued oppression of Uighur Muslims in China a genocide.

Michael Chong, the party's foreign affairs critic, is trying to force the Liberal government's hand by introducing an opposition day motion that, if passed, would commit the House of Commons to officially declaring China's oppression of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs a genocide.

The motion also calls on the government to formally brand the crimes carried out by the communist regime as genocidal acts.

"The evidence is clear. A genocide is taking place and Canada should not evade its responsibility," Chong said, adding that Canada has a proud history of standing up for human rights globally, as it did in condemning apartheid in South Africa before other Western allies.

"We must show leadership. We must take a stand."

Bloc Québécois, Green and NDP MPs also spoke in favour of the motion today.

"We must call it for what it is. The whole community of nations must take it seriously and we hope the prime minister and his government support this motion and take this step," said NDP MP Jack Harris, the party's foreign affairs critic. "The actions meet the definition of genocide. There's undeniable evidence."

A Bloc MP, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, amended the motion to formally call on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Olympic Games out of Beijing, echoing an earlier plea from Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole.

Repeating a phrase used in the wake of the genocide of Jewish people and other groups during the Second World War, O'Toole said history will judge those who let Chinese horrors go unchecked.

"Around the world, we have solemnly uttered the phrase 'never again,' but it falls flat without action. 'Never again' demands action before more atrocities are committed," O'Toole said. "We cannot remain silent. Silence only helps those who commit crimes against humanity, never the victims."

MPs will vote on the motion Monday.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole joined the call for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing to be relocated due to China's actions. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers have been reluctant to use the word "genocide" to describe China's actions against the Uighurs. Those actions, according to multiple reports, include imprisoning Uighurs in concentration and "deradicalization" camps, forced labour, sexual violence, population control methods and heavy-handed surveillance of everyday life.

Trudeau has said the word genocide is an "extremely loaded" term and he is not at this point prepared to use it.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday that the government is "gravely concerned" about the "human rights situation." He said the abuses are "alarming" and the government takes them "very seriously."

Garneau said the government doesn't want to go it alone in declaring the actions a genocide and prefers instead to work with international partners to gather facts on the ground. He said Canada wants independent investigators to go into China to document abuses. The International Criminal Court has already said it will not pursue such a probe.

Government is 'examining the evidence,' says Garneau

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has continued the former administration's policy of describing China's treatment of the Uighurs as genocide. "My judgment remains that genocide was committed ... against the Uighurs and that hasn't changed," Blinken said late last month.

When pressed on the U.S. declarations, Garneau said other Five Eyes partners haven't gone that far. "These are complex questions that I assure you our government is seized with," he said. "We're examining all the evidence."

While he said he welcomes further investigation, Harris added Canada has an obligation to "call out these practices as crimes against humanity" now.

"There must be no impunity for this type of behaviour," the Newfoundland MP said, adding Canada's silence would give a pass to other abusive nations to persecute minority groups and oppressed peoples. "By not acting, we endanger the future of mankind."

Garneau said Canada has a complicated relationship with China, the world's second largest economy. He said China could be a partner on other pressing global issues like the fight against climate change.

Kevin Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, defended the federal government's approach to China to date.

He said the country has taken "tangible actions," such as suspending the Canada-Hong Kong extradition treaty after China imposed strict new national security controls in the territory and cracked down on protests. The government also imposed import restrictions on goods made "in whole or in part" by slave labour in the region.

But the Liberal government has ignored past demands from MPs and senators — including some appointed by Trudeau himself — to impose Magnitsky Act sanctions on Chinese officials even though it has used this legislation to penalize Saudi Arabian and Venezuelan leaders for their involvement in past crimes. The Liberal government also imposed sanctions against military leaders behind a coup d'état in Myanmar.

Conservatives call out Trudeau

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, the party's human rights critic, said Trudeau has described the violence perpetuated against Indigenous women and girls in Canada as genocide but refuses to act when it comes to China.

"Ironic, isn't it, that the prime minister is prepared to accuse his own country of genocide," Genuis said. "He's willing to accuse his own country of genocide but unwilling to accuse China of genocide when it's clearly taking place."

While Trudeau and his cabinet appear unready to accuse Chinese leaders of carrying out a genocide, backbench Liberal MPs helped to write a recent report from the Commons subcommittee on international human rights that documented the mistreatment of the Muslim minority in China's Xinjiang province.

The committee, chaired by Liberal MP Peter Fonseca, said that it agrees with the experts who say China's campaign against the Uighurs meets the definition of genocide set out in the 1948 Genocide Convention.

MPs heard from witnesses who survived the concentration camps China has built to suppress Muslims living in this oil-rich northwestern province.

In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. (Ng Han Guan/AP Photo)

Committee witnesses described "deplorable" conditions in camps where they were psychologically, physically and sexually abused and subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the dominant Chinese culture.

The committee's report also concluded that communist officials have forcibly sterilized Uighur women and girls and pushed abortions and intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) on hundreds of thousands in a systematic attempt "to persecute and possibly eradicate Uighurs."

Uighurs make up less than one per cent of the population in China, while Mandarin-speaking ethnic Chinese people — the Han — constitute the overwhelming majority.

While the Uighurs are just a small ethnic subset, Chinese government documents obtained by the committee show that approximately 80 per cent of all new IUD placements in China took place in Xinjiang.

Birth rates continue to plummet across the region and fell by nearly 24 per cent in 2019 alone — compared to a drop of just 4.2 per cent nationwide — according to statistics compiled by researcher Adrian Zenz for a report published by the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation.

The population control measures are backed by mass detention, both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply.

Uighurs living in Turkey participate in a protest against what they allege is oppression by the Chinese government of Muslim Uighurs in the far-western Xinjiang province. (AP Photo)

Witnesses also told committee members about a "poverty reduction" measure implemented by Beijing that forced Uighurs into camps to perform slave labour, making products that were to be sold in Canada and other western nations.

A February 2020 report titled "Uighurs for sale" by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that thousands of Muslims have been used as forced labour in factories that supply companies like BMW, Nike and Huawei, among others.

Watch: 'I plan to support that motion': Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith:

'I plan to support that motion': Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith

2 years ago
Duration 2:07
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith tells Power & Politics Friday that he intends on supporting the Conservative motion calling on Parliament to declare that China is committing a genocide against its Muslim minority populations.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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