Members of Parliament overwhelmingly passed a Conservative motion Monday declaring that China is committing genocide against its minority Muslim Uighur population, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from the vote.
The non-binding motion, tabled by Tory foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, cleared the House of Commons by a vote of 266-0, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, NDP, Green Party, and more than 80 Liberal MPs, who were given a free vote on the issue.
The motion asked the House to not only recognize “a genocide is currently being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims,” but call on Trudeau’s government to officially adopt that position.
A Bloc amendment urging the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics out of Beijing “if the genocide continues” was also accepted by the House.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau was the only Liberal minister to formally abstain from the vote, receiving a taunt of “shame” after he said, through a video link, he was doing so “on behalf of the government of Canada.” After the move sparked anger from Conservatives and the NDP, Garneau later said he was happy to just note that he was abstaining.
Though the remaining 35 ministers did not participate in the vote, former innovation minister Navdeep Bains supported the motion.
China has been accused of running detention camps to indoctrinate the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority group into mainstream society and of having used birth-control measures, including forced sterilization, to curb Uighur birth rates.
More than one million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in the camps, according to United Nations experts. Former detainees have said they’ve experienced forced labour, systematic rape, abuse, and torture.
Beijing has denied any wrongdoing. Government officials have described the camps to be part of a voluntary employment and language-training program. Over the weekend, China’s ambassador to Canada reiterated that position and warned MPs against “interfering in our domestic affairs.”
Speaking with reporters after the vote, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said the “coordinated absence” of Trudeau’s ministers spoke “volumes.”
“It is shameful that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government continue to refuse to call the horrific conduct by the Chinese Communist Party what it is: a genocide,” he said.
Trudeau has so far resisted using what he called an “extremely loaded” term to describe reported human rights abuses against Uighurs. He has suggested more evidence is needed to make a determination and has called for an independent investigation into China’s conduct.
The prime minister conceded Friday that experts, including U.S. officials, human rights advocates and legal scholars, have already determined China is committing genocide in its Xinjiang province, located in the country’s northwest.
In the fall, a parliamentary subcommittee that heard from Uighur survivors concluded China’s actions met the standard of genocide outlined in the UN Genocide Convention. Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, asked the UN Human Rights Council in November to investigate whether China is committing genocide.
Watch: Michael Chong calls on Trudeau to discuss Uighurs with Biden
Last week, O’Toole pointed to aspects of the UN Genocide Convention, including “imposing measures intended to prevent births” and deliberately inflicting “conditions of life” to bring about the destruction of a specific group, to make the case that China deserves the designation.
At a press conference Monday with Uighur community members, Chong said satellite images, smuggled videos and documents, accounts from Uighurs, and undercover reporting from major outlets, including The New York Times and the BBC, add to “overwhelming” evidence of the atrocities.
“We can no longer ignore this. We must call it for what it is: a genocide,” Chong said.
The Tory foreign affairs critic said his party believes in the importance of working multilaterally and called on Liberals to work with U.S. counterparts and allies to take “coordinated action” in response. Trudeau is set to meet virtually with U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday.
He also attempted to downplay what the vote could mean for the fate of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the two Canadians detained in China for more than 800 days in what is widely seen as retaliation for the RCMP’s 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.
The Liberal government’s current approach to China is “simply not working,” Chong said, adding that “equivocating and being passive” only emboldens the country.
Garneau: Canada’s relationship with China ‘complex’
In a House debate on the motion last week, Garneau said his “top priority” is securing the release of Spavor and Kovrig. He called Canada’s relationship with China “complex,” and told the House the countries must “coexist” with each other.
Garneau said he takes claims of genocide seriously, including “credible allegations and reports of mass arbitrary detention, repressive surveillance, forced labour, forced sterilization, torture and other mistreatments affecting Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.”
Garneau said at the time the government continues to push for an international investigation of the matter, and called on China to provide “unfettered access” to the Xinjiang region.
“Regardless of whether that access is provided, the international community has to work together in order to investigate the egregious human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang,” he said.
“It is clear from the available evidence that serious and credible human rights violations are occurring in Xinjiang. The nature and scale of these abuses are alarming.”
With files from The Canadian Press