Committee vote to condemn Chinese sanctions on Conservative MP Michael Chong gets all-party support

OTTAWA — The House of Commons foreign affairs committee has voted unanimously to condemn Chinese sanctions recently levied against Conservative MP Michael Chong and a parliamentary subcommittee for sounding the alarm on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.

“We see (the sanctions) as an attack on democracy, on transparency, on freedom of expression,” said Liberal MP Ruby Sahota, who put forward the motion. “And we think that there should be a united and clear stance taken by parliamentarians, and especially by this committee first and foremost, to condemn this action by China.”

Chong, the Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, sponsored a parliamentary motion in February that declared China’s treatment of the Uyghurs to be a genocide. The motion passed with 266 votes in favour and zero against, though Liberal cabinet ministers abstained from voting on it.

Last week, Canada also joined with the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities.

China retaliated on the weekend with sanctions against Chong and the Commons subcommittee on international human rights, as well as various U.S. and British officials. The sanctions block the affected individuals and entities from travelling to China or doing business with Chinese institutions and citizens.

The Chinese foreign affairs ministry attributed the allegations about its human rights abuses to “rumours and disinformation.”

“The Chinese government is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and urges the relevant parties to clearly understand the situation and redress their mistakes,” said the Chinese news release. “They must stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form and refrain from going further down the wrong path. Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt.”

After the Chinese sanctions came out, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau issued a statement calling them unacceptable, and said the Canadian government “stands with parliamentarians and all Canadians as we continue to work with partners in defence of democracy and freedom of speech.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the sanctions are “an attack on transparency and freedom of expression — values at the heart of our democracy.”

On Wednesday, Sahota’s motion called on the Commons foreign affairs committee to “strongly condemn the unacceptable sanctions” levied against Chong and the subcommittee, calling them an “affront to Canada’s democracy and parliamentary system.”

NDP MP Jack Harris amended the motion to add another sentence that read: “As parliamentarians, we will continue to actively denounce human rights violations and breaches of international law in keeping with our respect for basic human rights.” Harris’ amendment also called on the committee to report the motion to the full House of Commons.

The amendment and the motion itself passed unanimously in the committee.

“We all stand in solidarity with Michael Chong, who was named in the sanctions, the subcommittee and indeed all parliamentarians in our country who have spoken out on this issue,” Harris said.

Chong, who sits on the committee as a vice chair, thanked MPs for debating the motion. But he noted that he doesn’t have any business with China, and that he and his wife already have an agreement to not travel to China due to the detention of the two Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, as well as China’s recent crackdown in Hong Kong.

“So in practical terms, these sanctions will have no impact on me,” Chong said. “But they are an attempt to silence us, they’re an attempt to stop us from speaking up on the violations of international law…We cannot, as Canadian parliamentarians, allow that to happen.”

Chong also urged the committee not to be distracted by the diplomatic spat.

“I think we should remain focused not on the sanctions, but on why we were sanctioned, which is the human rights abuses taking place against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” he said, adding other examples of Chinese human rights abuses.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis praised the motion but said he still wants to see more concrete action from the Canadian government.

“Whatever consequences these sanctions may cause for us as parliamentarians, they are absolutely nothing in comparison to the the horrific violence being inflicted on people in China,” Genuis said. “On the concrete policy areas of genocide recognition, of strengthening supply chain legislation, and on other areas that are so needed, I encourage the government to take leadership as well and to join with parliamentarians in this critical fight.”

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