By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian parliament passed a non-binding motion on Monday saying China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region constitutes genocide, putting pressure on the government of liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do the same.
The Canadian House of Commons voted 266-0 in favor of the motion by the opposition Conservative Party. Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from voting, although liberal advocates widely supported it.
The motion was also amended shortly before the vote to call on the International Olympic Committee to withdraw the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics if treatment continues.
Trudeau’s conservative rivals are pressing him to be tougher with China. After Canada arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in 2018 with a U.S. warrant, China arrested two Canadians on espionage charges, generating persistent diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
China was widely condemned for establishing complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to eradicate extremism and give people new skills, and what others call concentration camps. Beijing denies allegations of abuse in Xinjiang.
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Citing testimonies, documents and media reports on human rights abuses against Uighurs, conservative lawmaker Michael Chong said: “We can no longer ignore this. We must call it what it is – a genocide.”
Trudeau has been reluctant to use the word genocide, suggesting that seeking a broad consensus among Western allies on human rights issues in China would be the best approach.
“Moving forward multilaterally will be the best way to demonstrate the solidarity of Western democracies … which are extremely concerned and dismayed by reports of what is happening in Xinjiang,” Trudeau said on Friday after speaking to other G7 leaders.
Trudeau and US President Joe Biden will hold a virtual bilateral meeting on Tuesday afternoon, and relations with China are likely to be discussed, a government source said.
Former US President Donald Trump – on his last full day in office last month – said China had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by cracking down on Uighur Muslims.
The Biden government is trying to ensure that the declaration of genocide is maintained, according to its choice to be ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Cong Peiwu, the Chinese ambassador to Ottawa, denied the accusations of genocide.
“Western countries are not in a position to say what the human rights situation in China is like,” Cong said in an interview before the vote. “There is no genocide in Xinjiang.”
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Peter Cooney)