Conservatives urge moving Beijing Olympics over Uyghur atrocities, but Trudeau disputes use of term ‘genocide’

Members of the Uyghur diaspora and their allies protest outside the Chinese embassy in Toronto in July 2019.

TIJANA MARTIN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is urging Canada’s minority Liberal government to press Olympic organizers to move the 2022 Winter Games out of China because Beijing is “committing genocide against” the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

He said years of reports from human rights monitors, from Western media outlets and from Uyghurs themselves are enough reason to act.

“Genocide is taking place in China right now,” Mr. O’Toole said, citing the use of internment camps and forced sterilization for Muslim Uyghurs..

“Approximately a million Uyghurs have been forcibly relocated into detention centres,” he said. “People who have managed to escape have reported horrific, co-ordinated violence including physical, mental and sexual torture.”

“Women have spoken of mass rape and sexual abuse. Women have been subjected to forced sterilization.”

He said Canada’s unwillingness to act is a change from its past record on human rights abuses, citing the Canadian government’s effort against the racist Apartheid policies of South Africa.

“I think Canadians would agree that it would violate universal fundamental ethical principles to participate in an Olympic Games hosted by a country that is committing a genocide against part of its population.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he too supports moving the 2022 Winter Olympics out of Beijing.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is not at this time prepared to label China’s conduct genocide, saying the treatment of the Uyghurs needs more investigation.

“It’s a word that is extremely loaded and is certainly something that we should be looking at in the case of the Uyghurs,” he told reporters.

Mr. O’Toole said the grounds for relocating the 2022 Olympics, scheduled to start less than one year from now in February 2022, go beyond the persecution of the Uyghurs. He also cited Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, where he said China “has established a police state” as well as the ongoing incarceration of two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – who were locked up more than two years ago on what Canada has called manufactured charges.

Mr. O’Toole is not the first politician to declare that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its use of internment camps and forced sterilization for Muslim Uyghurs.

There is a bipartisan consensus in the United States. Not only did the U.S. State Department under former secretary of state Michael Pompeo declare on Jan. 19 that China is perpetrating genocide, but his successor, U.S. President Joe Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said later that he concurs.

“The forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” Mr. Blinken told Senate confirmation hearings last month.

Members of Mr. Trudeau’s own party have also labelled the persecution of the Uyghurs as genocide. Last October, a House of Commons subcommittee in which the majority of members are from the governing Liberal Party released a statement last October declaring the persecution of the Uyghurs to be genocide.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as acts that include “imposing measures intended to prevent births within [a] group,” as well as “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of [a] group.”

Mr. O’Toole told reporters Tuesday that if Canadians think China is committing genocide, it cannot in good conscience send athletes to the 2022 Winter Games next year. That’s why he wants Canada to push the International Olympic Committee to move the games.