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Uyghur members of the Communist Party of China carry a flag past a billboard of Chinese President Xi Jinping as they take part in an organized tour on June 30, 2017, in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province, China.Kevin Frayer/GETTY IMAGES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau challenged China to publicly and transparently probe its mistreatment of Muslim minorities as Beijing and its allies call for an independent investigation into Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.

“In Canada, we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Where is China’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission?” the Prime Minister said Tuesday during a news conference when asked about the Chinese Communist Party’s push for a probe into crimes against Indigenous peoples, and especially children, in Canada.

Mr. Trudeau was referring to the commission that ran for more than seven years until 2015 and documented the history and effect of the residential school system on Indigenous students and their families. The commission made public all its findings. China, by comparison, has refused to allow independent observers into its Xinjiang region where Beijing is accused of conducting crimes against humanity.

This clash between China and Canada began at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday as the Canadian government and 40 other countries urged China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” so independent observers can visit Xinjiang, while a Chinese envoy demanded that Canadian authorities “stop violations of human rights” at home.

Activists and UN experts have said a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have been subject to mass detention in Xinjiang in recent years. China denies abuses and says the centres provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism in the remote western region. Reports have emerged about Beijing’s success in slashing the birth rate of Uyghurs and other minorities through mass sterilization, forced abortions and mandatory birth control.

China responds angrily to Canada’s sanctions over human-rights abuses in Xinjiang

Rights group urges UN to investigate China for alleged crimes against humanity in Xinjiang region

China for its part is trying to counter Canada’s effort at the Human Rights Council by saying it is Ottawa that merits investigation.

Chinese envoy Jiang Duan raised Canada’s past mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and the recent discovery of what appear to be the remains of more than 200 children at a former residential school in Kamloops. He called for a “thorough and impartial investigation” into crimes against Indigenous peoples and blamed racism and xenophobia in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there is a fundamental difference between Canada's troubled relationship with Indigenous Peoples, and China's human rights violation against the Uyghurs. He says Canada knows its relationship with Indigenous Peoples is broken and is trying to address this issue while China isn't even willing to admit there is a problem.

The Canadian Press

China’s statement about Canada’s Indigenous record at the Human Rights Council was on behalf of several other countries, including Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

“Where is their truth?” Mr. Trudeau asked of China, which is being condemned by Western countries for its abuse of Muslim minorities including the Uyghurs – mistreatment that is centred in Xinjiang. The Canadian, British, Dutch and Lithuanian parliaments, among others, have passed motions declaring China’s abuse of Muslim minorities to constitute genocide. In Canada’s case, Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from voting on the motion.

Mr. Trudeau’s comments Tuesday represent some of the toughest language ever directed by the Liberal Prime Minister at China, a country his government has frequently being accused of taking too soft an approach toward.

Mr. Trudeau said that unlike Canada, however, China keeps trying to hide and play down its mistreatment of Muslim minorities.

“China is not recognizing there is even a problem. That is a pretty fundamental difference. That is why Canadians and people around the world are speaking up for people like the Uyghurs who find themselves voiceless faced with a government that will not recognize what is happening to them.”

The Prime Minster challenged Beijing to come clean on its record. “Where is the openness that Canada has always shown and the responsibility that Canada has taken for the terrible mistakes of the past … many of which continue into the present?”

In Geneva, top Canadian diplomat Leslie Norton called on China to let in observers.

“We urge China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the High Commissioner,” Ms. Norton said, referring to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Ms. Norton cited “credible reports” that more than one million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang — some facing torture and other “inhuman” treatment - and that Uyghurs and others face disproportionate surveillance and restrictions on their culture.

The statement from Ms. Norton also called for an end to “the arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities,” and also expressed concerns about human rights in Hong Kong and Tibet.

Mr. Trudeau said Canada has taken steps to recognize the relationship with Indigenous peoples “had been broken over generations and centuries and needed to be fixed” - and has begun taking steps to remedy this.

Reconciliation is still “very much a work in progress,” he said, listing off changes including new schools, water treatment and protection of Indigenous language and culture.

“Thousands of kids have started their school year in brand new schools. One hundred and eight boil water advisories have been lifted,” he said. “The journey of reconciliation is a long one but it is a journey we are on.”

With a report from The Associated Press

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