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Members of the Uyghur diaspora and their allies protest outside the Chinese embassy in Toronto in July, 2019.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is urging Canada’s minority Liberal government to press Olympic organizers to move the 2022 Winter Games out of China because, he says, Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the word “genocide” is an “extremely loaded” term, and he is not at this point prepared to use it to describe China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Mr. O’Toole said years of reports from human-rights monitors, Western media outlets and Uyghurs themselves are enough reason to act.

“Genocide is taking place in China right now,” Mr. O’Toole said, citing the use of internment camps and forced sterilization.

“Approximately a million Uyghurs have been forcibly relocated into detention centres,” he said. “People who have managed to escape have reported horrific, co-ordinated violence including physical, mental and sexual torture.

“Women have spoken of mass rape and sexual abuse. Women have been subjected to forced sterilization.”

The Chinese embassy in Canada said allegations of genocide are false and represent “major insults” to the Chinese people.

“It is highly irresponsible for some parties to try to disrupt, intervene and sabotage the preparation and holding of Beijing Winter Olympic Games to serve their political interests,” the embassy said in a statement. “Such actions will not be supported by the international community and will never succeed.”

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as acts that include “imposing measures intended to prevent births within [a] group,” as well as “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of [a] group.”

More than one million Uyghurs have been held in detention camps in China’s Xinjiang province, facilities the Chinese government calls vocational and education training centres. Beijing defends its conduct by saying it’s trying to stamp out extremism.

Birth rates in Hotan and Kashgar, Uyghur-majority areas of Xinjiang, fell more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2018, the Associated Press has reported.

Mr. O’Toole said the government’s unwillingness to act is a change from its past record on human-rights abuses, citing efforts against the racist apartheid policies of South Africa.

“I think Canadians would agree that it would violate universal fundamental ethical principles to participate in an Olympic Games hosted by a country that is committing a genocide against part of its population.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he too supports moving the 2022 Winter Olympics.

But Mr. Trudeau said the treatment of the Uyghurs needs more investigation. He said the “label of genocide” is very serious, and the international community has to ensure “it is clearly and properly justified.”

Canada has previously said it wants an independent investigation into China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. And Mr. Trudeau said Canada would like to be part of such an investigation. Human-rights advocates have pointed out that it’s extremely unlikely China would ever allow it.

When asked if he is reluctant to label China’s conduct as genocide in case it leads to repercussions for Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Mr. Trudeau said his government’s primary concern is making sure the term genocide is not misused.

“There is no question there have been tremendous human-rights abuses reported coming out of Xinjiang, and we are extremely concerned about that.”

But he said when it comes to calling it genocide, “we need to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in the process before a determination like that is made.”

Mr. O’Toole said the grounds for relocating the 2022 Olympics go beyond the persecution of the Uyghurs. He also cited Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and the incarceration of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor – who were detained more than two years ago on what Canada has called manufactured charges.

Mr. O’Toole is not the first Canadian politician to declare that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its use of internment camps and forced sterilization for Muslim Uyghurs.

Last October, a House of Commons subcommittee on which the majority of members are from the governing Liberal Party released a statement declaring the persecution of the Uyghurs to be genocide.

Mr. O’Toole told reporters on Tuesday that if Canadians think China is committing genocide, it cannot in good conscience send athletes to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

The federal Green Party has also called for the Winter Olympics to be moved out of China and has urged Ottawa to propose Canada as an alternative.


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