Community leaders demand adviser to B.C. premier be removed after he called claims of Uyghur genocide in China ‘lies’

VANCOUVER—A group of community leaders has penned a letter demanding British Columbia Premier John Horgan remove a member of his Chinese-Canadian Community Advisory Committee after calling allegations of genocide against the Chinese Communist Party “lies” on a Toronto radio program.

Thirteen people signed the letter slamming the “outrageous” statements made by Bill Yee claiming accounts of genocide in western China were “lies,” including religious leaders, activists, journalists and community advocates.

“Can you afford to have a genocide-denier and tyranny-defender as adviser?” reads the letter, which also accuses Yee of being a proxy for the CCP and working with the United Front Work Department.

The department is tasked with forwarding the mission of the CCP at home and abroad.

Thekla Lit is an advocate for education about the Asian Holocaust — human rights atrocities committed in Asia by Japan in and prior to the Second World War — who signed the letter.

Lit said the letter was born out of concern Canada’s diverse Chinese communities were being misrepresented by someone advising the premier.

“For us he is not really upholding Canadian values,” Lit said. “Rather he became like a mouthpiece for another oppressive regime.”

But the New Democrat government insisted for a second time Wednesday Yee was speaking for himself and left the door open for him to remain on the committee. Another request was made via the province to speak to Yee, who did not return the request.

Yee, a former provincial court judge and past president of Vancouver’s Chinese Benevolent Association, made the comments during a Cantonese interview on the Toronto based radio station A-1 March 30. He was introduced as a co-chair of the Chinese-Canadian Community Advisory Committee during the segment.

According to a transcript of the interview translated by the Star, he said the accounts of human rights abuses many allege constitute genocide in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are false and being used by politicians with “ulterior motives.”

“I think what they said about genocide and human rights in Xinjiang are being made up,” he said to host Andrea Chun.

Yee also called the allegations “lies” during the interview and accused Canadian politicians of not even knowing where Xinjiang is. He said the genocide allegations are using the cotton trade to “make a big fuss.”

He also insisted the population increase in Xinjiang shows a genocide is not being committed.

Journalists, human rights organizations, victims and academics have increasingly produced evidence Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang are being subjected to forced sterilization, systemic rape, forced labour and political indoctrination in internment camps.

During the interview Chun pointed to a report from an Ottawa subcommittee on international human rights declaring Beijing’s actions in the region are consistent with genocide as laid out in a 1948 United Nations genocide convention.

Yee dismissed the committee’s findings, which were based on the testimony of more than one dozen witnesses including those alleging they underwent torture and sexual assault in internment camps in Xinjiang.

The letter calling for Yee’s removal brings up numerous instances where it’s alleged he has used the CCP’s messaging, including in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, raising concerns such statements are damaging to the Chinese community.

“We are extremely concerned when geopolitically driven opinions by your key adviser would implicate the Chinese community further and fan the flame of racialized hatred,” it reads.

It also raised concerns about the selection process for the Chinese-Canadian Advisory Committee.

“Is it based on the titles one has behind one’s name? One’s successful career? The frequency one appears on Chinese community events?” it asks. “Or is it based on one’s track record on allegiance to Canada, upholding Canadian values of human rights and justice, providing independent opinion on community issues rather than becoming a mouth piece for a foreign regime?”

On Feb. 22, a motion in the House of Commons to recognize the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide passed 266-0 with most of Trudeau’s cabinet abstaining. The federal NDP supported the motion.

On Wednesday B.C.’s Minister of State for Trade George Chow issued a statement stressing Yee’s comments were his alone and he has been asked to distinguish his personal opinions from the advisory committee.

It said the most current term for the committee expired in February.

“We are in the process of reviewing the upcoming work program for the Advisory Committee, including canvassing the outgoing members for their opinions,” the statement said. “We will have more to say in the near future.”

Mehmet Tohti of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project said Yee’s view contradicts the evidence of genocide and the opinion of the Canadian public.

“That personal view is problematic because he’s not only a person, he’s advising the premier’s office and influencing the decisions of the premier in B.C.,” Tohti said. “He’s a part of the government decision-making process.”

He said if Yee is not removed from his post his organization will start a national campaign meant to pressure the B.C. NDP and government to have him removed.

Tohti said the comments ignored the strife many Uyghurs, including those living in Canada, have gone through as human rights in Xinjiang have been cracked down upon, especially Yee’s assertion the evidence amounts to lies.

“How about my mother and 37 direct relatives (who) have disappeared, is that a lie?” Tohti said. “I know a number of Uyghur-Canadians who lost their parents and relatives without any news, is that a lie?”