OTTAWA — Pressure is mounting on the Canadian government to commit to a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympic Games after the U.S. announced its intention to do so Monday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that government officials won’t be in attendance for the games, to protest human rights abuses in China, but athletes are permitted to compete.
“Athletes will be participating, we will be rooting for the athletes from home…this is just an indication that it cannot be business as usual, that not sending a diplomatic delegation sends that message,” she said.
Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge said later in the day that the government was consulting with other countries but that a Canadian decision hadn’t been reached.
In a subsequent statement to CTVNews.ca, Christelle Chartrand, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, echoed a similar sentiment.
“Canada remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China. We were notified of the U.S. decision and we will continue to discuss this matter with our partners and allies,” the statement reads.
Opposition MPs have been ramping up calls for some version of a boycott.
Earlier in the day on Monday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he’s been consulting with domestic and international Olympic committee officials about striking a balance between displaying Canada’s “profound displeasure” with China’s conduct while also respecting the right of athletes to compete.
“We’ve been proposing moving the games, there wasn’t any interest by the Trudeau government in that. We proposed a diplomatic boycott – I think that’s the best thing we can do alongside our allies to show pressure but not to make the athletes pay the price for the conduct in Beijing,” he said.
In February, MPs voted to label China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims a genocide.
The Chinese government has been accused of mass surveillance and incarceration of thousands of Uyghur, forcing them into labour camps for the purposes of indoctrinating the mostly-Muslim minority into mainstream Chinese society.
NDP MP and foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson also spoke to the issue on Monday, noting that there are Canadian parliamentarians banned from China, after the superpower targeted the parliamentary subcommittee on international human rights, which in the last Parliament was examining the treatment of the Uyghur population.
“If we did send a diplomatic mission, China is in fact choosing who gets to go on that mission…that in and of itself, to me, is problematic. But also I think there is huge problems having the Olympics in Beijing knowing that there’s genocide happening in that country,” she said.
Last week, St-Onge said she respects the decision of Canadian athletes to attend.
“I totally respect their independence and the decision they’re making,” she said.
David Shoemaker, the Canadian Olympic Committee CEO & Secretary General, says the body will support whatever the government decides but is advocating for athletes to compete.
“It’s very important to me that Canadian athletes are at these Winter Games, notwithstanding the myriad of challenges and questions and concerns that we have about what’s going on in the host country,” he told CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Monday.
Shoemaker says he’s routinely in contact with international Olympic committees, but not all are hyper concerned with China’s conduct.
“What’s surprising to me is how little these issues in China are registering on the radars in many of these other countries. They’re of great concern to Canadians. We know we had the hostage diplomacy situation with Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and perhaps that accentuated things,” he said.
Asked whether he’s worried about the safety of Canadian athletes while in China, Shoemaker said it’s always a top concern regardless of where the games are taking place.
With a file from The Canadian Press.