Wednesday, 2 Dec 2020

Canada needs to sanction China over treatment of Uighurs, MPs say

Members of Parliament are continuing to push for the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials following a parliamentary study that found the country’s treatment of its Uighur population constitutes “genocide.”

Speaking Thursday in a press conference that crossed party lines, current and former members of the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights addressed reporters in a bid to draw attention to their study’s findings and calls for action.

“Some of the testimony we heard was so horrendous that I’m certain some people would actually look at this and think it’s a movie script. But this is actually happening,” said Conservative MP David Sweet.

Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois members of Parliament were all also in attendance at the press conference, echoing his comments.

“We encourage the government as well… that they would align with, certainly our Commonwealth partners, and make sure that we’re establishing a very clear response to the bully tactics from the Chinese Communist Party,” Sweet added.

NDP MP Heather McPherson said that while Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have spoken about the issue, she’d like to see those comments translate into action.

“We have heard the words that Minister Champagne and the prime minister have said, but what we are looking for is further action, of course, and hopefully that this statement and our subsequent report will lead to greater impact and greater action, particularly working with our allies,” McPherson said.

On Oct. 20, the subcommittee released a statement detailing the findings of their study into the human rights situation of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The statement described horrific human rights abuses, ranging from mass detentions, to forced sterilizations, to claims of widespread organ harvesting and coerced labour.

“Survivors of the concentration camps described deplorable conditions. The subcommittee heard that detainees are abused psychologically, physically and sexually. They are forbidden from speaking the Uyghur language or practising their religion,” read the statement.

Over the course of its study, the subcommittee heard from a number of witnesses, including Uighurs who fled the region, people who have been inside the camps, former detainees and their family members, as well as a variety of experts and academics.

“One concentration camp survivor also raised the troubling prospect that the Government of China is collecting DNA information from detainees, without their consent, to determine the compatibility of their organs for later harvesting,” it added.

The statement also described allegations of a campaign of “inhumane population control measures.”

“Documents show that in 2019, officials in Xinjiang hoped to subject over 80% of women of childbearing age in the four Uyghur majority southern prefectures to birth control measures with long-term effectiveness,” the statement read.

“The Subcommittee was told that between 2015 and 2018, population growth in predominantly Uyghur areas of Xinjiang fell by 84%, a trend that is expected to accelerate in the coming years.”

Members also said they found widespread surveillance efforts by the Chinese against the Uighur population, as well as the use of forced labour – which the politicians said is being used by large corporations that are manufacturing products Canadians consume.

However, speaking at the Thursday press conference, the members of Parliament would not name the companies involved in these supply chains.

The politicians also reiterated their calls for the government to condemn China’s actions against the Uighurs, demanding Canada work with allies to gain access to the region. In addition, they called on Parliament to recognize the acts taking place in the region as genocide, and to impose sanctions using the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act on any Chinese officials who have a hand in the treatment of these minority groups.

In December 2019, Conservative senators Leo Housakos and Thanh Hai Ngo announced their intention to table a motion calling for similar sanctions.

The proposal was met with swift condemnation from Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu, who said the adoption of such a motion would prompt “very firm countermeasures” from China.

He also called the allegations of mistreatment of China’s Uighur population “fake news.”

Canada is already enduring a chilly relationship with China.

Following Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018, Canada’s relations with China plunged into the deep freeze. China subsequently arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in what the Canadian government has maintained was a retaliation. The two remain detained in China today.

China also temporarily banned the import of Canadian beef and pork, attributing the brief ban to an outlawed animal feed additive they claim was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.

Escalating Canadian concerns over China’s crackdown in Hong Kong has also led to renewed threats from China, which has warned Canada against granting asylum to pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters.

“We strongly urge the Canadian side not (to) grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong because it is the interference in China’s domestic affairs. And certainly, it will embolden those violent criminals,” Cong said on Oct. 15 in a video press conference from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.

Speaking during the press conference, Cong also issued a fresh rejection of criticism against China’s broader human rights record, stating that any comments on that record are considered interference in China’s internal affairs.

—With files from The Canadian Press.

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