The Canadian government has seized goods from China it identified as being made with forced labour, the first Chinese shipment intercepted for this reason since federal law was toughened in 2020 to prohibit imports of items made under coercion.
In March, the Canada Border Services Agency told The Globe and Mail that, since the new rules came into force, it had not seized any imports from China that were made with forced labour.
But on Nov. 12, when The Globe asked again whether the CBSA had seized any Chinese shipments since the mid-2020 prohibition, the agency acknowledged one interception.
CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy told The Globe customs officials had seized a shipment of women’s and children’s clothing that arrived in Quebec from China, on the belief that it was “manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour.” The agency did not disclose the date of the seizure and said confidentiality rules prevented it from identifying the importer. It also said information was only available on interceptions up to Nov. 3.
Human rights advocates say China has coerced Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities into forced labour as part of a plan to assimilate them into mainstream Chinese culture. Cotton is a major export from Xinjiang, in northwestern China, where Beijing has been accused of detaining a great many Uyghurs and others. Another major export from the region is tomatoes and tomato products.
Members of the governing Liberal Party and opposition parties say Canada must do far more in the coming Parliament to address China’s repression of these minority groups.
Some MPs, including Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi, are calling for more thorough efforts to stop goods made with forced labour from entering Canada.
Liberal MP John McKay has also voiced support for tougher measures. “It’s an opportunity for Canada to take a look in the mirror and rid our supply chains of forced labour,” he said.
Others are advocating for Canada to create a dedicated refugee stream for Uyghurs seeking asylum here.
In 2018, Canada signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. As part of the new trade treaty, Canada vowed to stop the importation of products made with forced labour. It enacted the prohibition in mid-2020 and in early 2021 announced it would be cracking down on such goods from China.
China has been accused of subjecting Uyghurs and other groups not only to forced labour, but also to mass incarceration, destruction of religious sites and torture. And a growing body of evidence from human rights monitors, Western media outlets and testimony from Uyghur survivors has detailed how China has forced intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands in Xinjiang. Birth rates in Hotan and Kashgar, Uyghur-majority areas of Xinjiang, fell more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2018, the Associated Press has reported.
In February, Canada’s House of Commons passed a motion declaring that the Chinese government is carrying out a campaign of genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. Other Western legislatures followed suit, including those in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium. And U.S President Joe Biden’s administration issued a statement saying Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims meets a credible definition of genocide.
Mr. Zuberi said Canada now has an opportunity to take a stronger stand on the plight of the Uyghurs without fear of harm coming to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were locked up by China in 2018 and released earlier this year. “With the two Michaels back, it allows us to move on this in a way we couldn’t before,” he said.
Mr. Zuberi and Bloc Québécois MP Alexis-Brunelle Duceppe attended a general assembly of the World Uyghur Congress in Prague last week. The group is an umbrella organization for exiled Uyghurs that advocates for the right of members of the ethnic group to decide their political future in China. The event attracted politicians from many Western countries that are seeking to hold China to account.
Mr. Zuberi, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe and NDP MP Heather McPherson were all members of a Commons subcommittee in 2020 that drew up a report urging action by Canada on China’s treatment of Uyghurs. The report recommends the creation of “an exceptional refugee stream to expedite entry” for Uyghurs. No such stream has been created.
“There are a lot of Uyghurs in third countries at real risk of being deported back to China and put into the detention camps there. We can create a program that welcomes Uyghurs here so they can be safely settled,” Mr. Zuberi said.
Ms. McPherson, now the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, said she thinks it’s disappointing Ottawa has not yet done the right thing. “We have a new cabinet and I hope the ambition will be higher and we will get more done to make sure we are doing what we can for the Uyghur people,” she said.
China is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in February. At the World Uyghur Congress, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe sponsored a resolution that calls for the Games to be postponed until an independent observation mission is allowed to investigate repression in Xinjiang. The resolution also calls for the games to be moved elsewhere if China rejects the investigation or a probe uncovers wrongdoing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has rejected the idea of boycotting the Games, as have other Western countries.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada should, at the very least, refuse to send any diplomatic representation to the Beijing games: “We should be at minimum indicating a diplomatic boycott of these games: no representatives on the part of the government of Canada.”
Mr. Chong said Canada should adopt the U.S. approach to goods made with forced labour in Xinjiang. Washington’s “reverse onus” ban means categories of goods from Xinjiang – such as cotton or tomatoes – are banned unless importers can prove they are not tainted by forced labour.