Canada’s Trudeau, Cabinet abstain from China genocide vote

Protesters gather outside the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Parliament is expected to vote on an opposition motion calling on Canada to recognize China's actions against ethnic Muslim Uighurs as genocide. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s House of Commons voted Monday to declare that China is committing genocide against more than 1 million Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet abstained from the vote.

The non-binding motion passed 266-0 as virtually all but Trudeau and his Cabinet voted for the measure that also called on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing.

A senior government official said declaring something in Parliament is not going to adequately get results in China and that work with international allies and partners is needed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The main opposition parties supported the motion and control the majority of seats in the House of Commons. Trudeau’s Cabinet is made up of 37 Liberal lawmakers including the prime minister. There are 154 lawmakers from Trudeau’s Liberal party in the House of Commons and the rest of the Liberal lawmakers voted freely on the motion.

Liberal Foreign Minister Marc Garneau abstained like the rest of the Cabinet. He said in a statement there should be a credible international investigation in response to allegations of genocide.

“We remain deeply disturbed by horrific reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including the use of arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization,” Garneau said.

Opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said he’s calling on the government to confirm the statement passed by the House of Commons and work with allies like the U.S. to push for an end to the camps and conduct by China.

“There is real suffering going on in China. There is a genocide happening,” O’Toole said. “Our values are not for sale. And Mr. Trudeau needed to send that message today and he failed.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared before he left office that China’s policies against Xinjiang’s Muslims and ethnic minorities constituted crimes against humanity and genocide. His successor, Antony Blinken, reiterated the statement on his first day in office.

Researchers and rights groups estimate that since 2016, China has rounded up a million or more Uighurs and other minorities into prisons and vast indoctrination camps that the state calls training centers.

Pompeo cited widespread forced birth control and forced labor among Uighurs. The Associated Press reported last year that the Chinese government was systematically forcing sterilization and abortion on Uighur and other Muslim women and sent many to camps simply for having too many children.

The vote is the latest attempt to hold China accountable for its treatment of the Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim and ethnic Turkic minorities, who have been subjected to an unprecedented crackdown that is increasingly drawing international concern.

China denies any abuses and insists the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.

China’s envoy to Canada told Canadian parliamentarians over the weekend to butt out of China’s internal affairs.

Trudeau has hesitated at using the word “genocide,” which he called an “extremely loaded” term.

“When it comes to the application of the very specific word genocide, we simply need to ensure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before a determination like that is made,” Trudeau said last week.

Kalbinur Tursun, a Uighur who fled China, joined the opposition Conservatives on a virtual call before the vote and said the world didn’t believe the horrors of the Holocaust until the concentration camps were exposed for all to see after Word War II.

“Yesterday’s Jews are today’s Uighurs,” Tursun said. Two weeks ago, Tursun said Chinese police contacted her with “threatening texts and phone calls reminding me to cease talking.” She said she was speaking publicly in an appeal to save the lives of her relatives back home.

Canada continues to press Beijing to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, both detained in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at the Chinese technology company Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder. The U.S. is seeking Meng’s extradition on fraud charges, and her extradition case is before the Canadian courts. Her arrest severely damaged relations between China and Canada. China has also sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended canola imports.

“It’s a pretty safe bet that the two Michaels are on his mind,” historian Robert Bothwell said of Trudeau.