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People wearing face masks are seen near the Olympic rings at top of the Olympic Tower, a year ahead of the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, in Beijing on Feb. 4, 2021.TINGSHU WANG/Reuters

Nearly 20 Canadian politicians, including MPs from all major federal parties, have signed an open letter calling for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be moved out of Beijing on the grounds that China is perpetrating genocide against Muslim minorities including the Uyghurs.

In the letter, the signatories say they fear China will use the Beijing Winter Games to shore up its international image in the face of rising condemnation of the forced population control and mass internment of Uyghurs. Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he considers what is taking place to be genocide.

To send Canadian athletes to Beijing “would amount to taking part in a sinister, self-aggrandizing spectacle staged for the benefit of a regime that is perpetrating the worst possible crimes against humanity against its own people,” state the signatories, which also include advocacy organizations, human rights groups and members of Quebec’s National Assembly.

“We want to ensure that the medals they win in 2022 are not tainted by what will no doubt go down in history, like the 1936 Berlin Games, as The Games of Shame,” the letter says, referring to the Summer Games held in Nazi Germany, which Canadian athletes attended.

More than 180 human rights groups around the world have already urged a boycott of Beijing 2022 on account of China’s human rights abuses.

This photo taken on May 31, 2019, shows a Uighur woman (C) going through an entrance to a bazaar in Hotan, in China's northwest Xinjiang region.GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

United Nations experts have said at least one million Uyghurs and other Muslims have been detained in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region in camps the Chinese government calls vocational and education training centres. Beijing says it’s trying to stamp out terrorism and extremism.

But Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, who spearheaded the letter, said he feels a boycott is unfair to Canada’s athletes, and that the signatories believe there is still time to find a new locale.

“I know a boycott is not popular. ... Let’s move the Games so we’re not taking apart the Olympic dreams of our athletes.”

This letter, targeted at the International Olympic Committee, is part of a wave of lobbying by outside groups to persuade organizers to relocate the Games.

This file photo taken on June 2, 2019, shows a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in Artux, north of Kashgar in China's western Xinjiang region.GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

Other signatories include Toronto-area Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Conservative MP Kelly Block from Saskatchewan, and New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May from British Columbia. A number of Quebec provincial politicians, including former NHL hockey player Enrico Ciccone, now a Liberal Member of the National Assembly, have also signed, as have the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project and Olympic gold medalist Jean-Luc Brassard.

“Some may argue that sports and politics should not mix. We would respond that when genocide is happening, it is no longer a matter of politics, but of human rights and crimes against humanity. We cannot accept the current status quo,” the letter writers say.

The Canadian government has so far avoided condemning China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau has said he wants to see an independent investigation first, although human-rights groups express skepticism that China would ever allow a team on the ground to probe the matter.

However a Canadian House of Commons committee last October issued a statement labelling China’s conduct as genocide, and Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to Canada’s Justice Minister and Attorney-General, subsequently told the Commons that “it is genocide that appears to be taking place today in China.”

In China’s northwest Xinjiang region, satellite images show the destruction of numerous mosques. Former detainees have described being tortured and forced to recite loyalty to the Communist Party. Government statistics show a sharp rise in the use of intrauterine devices and sterilization; an Associated Press investigation in 2020 found the state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands. “Even while the use of IUDs and sterilization has fallen nationwide, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang,” AP reported last summer.

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